Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, January 27, 2014

"The Bust of the Emperor" by Joseph Roth 1935 (translated by John Hoare)


Joseph Roth (Austria, 1894 to 1939) is universally considered one of the greatest European novelists of the 20th century.  He also wrote 1000s of newspaper observational articles and numerous short stories and novellas.  I have made it a life time goal to read all of his translated work, some sixteen novels, two collections of articles from newspapers in Berlin and Paris, a collection of short stories and a collection of his letters.  Much has been written about Roth.  I will just say for now I recently saw for yet another time the movie Casablanca and I can see Roth perfectly comfortable both in the upscale Rick's Cafe American or in the more noir Blue Parrot.  My favorite of his short fictions so far is "The Legend of the Holy Drinker" and of his books The Radetzky March and Savoy Hotel.  

One of the dominant recurring themes of Roth, and other Jewish Austro Hungarian writers like his good friend and sometimes patron, Stefan Zweig, was a nostalgia for the halcyon days of Vienna under the Emperor Franz Joseph.  The emperor was personally highly venerated.  The decline of the Austro Hungarian Empire along with the rise of Nazism destroyed incredible cultures like that of the Yiddish and Viennese society in which Jews were largely safe from prosecution.  

I read this story in Three Novellas by Joseph Roth (if you google it you can find older translations online and the German original.)   Basically it is a tribute to Franz Joseph and the era of tolerance, culture, and peace he represented to his citizens.  The story is very moving and shows the speakers love for the Emperor.  You can feel his pain at what society has evolved into without him as the titular head of society.    

Joseph and Mrs. Roth.


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