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, August 25, 2014

The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (1926, translated 2001 by Michael Hoffman)

The Wandering Jews is the eighth book by Joseph Roth I have so far have the honor of reading.  One of the most sincere compliments a reader can pay to a writer is simply reading all their books you can.  I am committed to reading all of the translated available as Kindle edition works of Joseph Roth. (There is some background information on Roth in my prior posts.)

The Wandering Jews is a briiliant and odd collection of articles on the place of Jews in European society and culture in the 1920s.  The composition history of the book is not made totally clear in Michael Hoffman's interesting introduction.  Roth was at the time one of the best paid journalists in the world.  It appears to me he probably wrote these first to be published in journals with inclusion in a book in mind.  Roth had his issues but he was of surpassing brilliance, as smart as they come.  

I cannot read anything wriiten in 1926 about European Jews without the coming Holocaust over writing the text.  Much of current world events is driven still by Anti-Semiticsm.  Roth's book will help to understand the place of Jews in world history. 

In the 1920s and continuing on culturally there is a divide of great importance between the so called European and The Eastern European or Yiddish Jew.  As later detailed by Hannah Arendt the Yiddish Jew or Shetl Jew did not want to assimilate.  The European Jew, in the words of Roth,  totally adopted the look, the clothes, the language and the ways of their host countries.  Many became ardent patriots. Roth heeps scorn on Jews who volunteer to fight in inter-European wars.  Above all other places, the European Jew most prospered within the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Roth tells us that this in part happened because the Empire was so multicultural that Jews were seen by the authorities as just another group.

There is a great deal of valuable information in this wonderful book.  Roth explains why Jews were often found in certain lines of work.  He talks in a fascinating way about the work of the peddler and installment seller, the money trader, the Rabbi, and wonderfully about the love of reading deeply found within Jewish culture.  He talks about immigration, how older people might live for decades in New York City and speak little English while their grandchildren would rise to places of prominence.  There is an interesting chapter devoted to immigration to America and a lot of illuminating insights on Zionism and Palestine.

The Wandering Jews is a brilliant work.  A miasma of bitter sadness hangs over the book 
as you read of the very old fascinating culture of Eastern European Jews knowing what will soon happen in Europe.

In one really poignant line Roth said that behind the most sophisticated fully assimilated Eurooean Jew, there are just a bit back Yiddish Jews that would embarrass them in front of the Goy.

This book also gives us a lot to ponder about in terms of post colonial issues and contemporary Middle Eastern Issues.  In my opinion, much of the political trouble in the world  has its roots in European Anti-Semiticism.   Behind much terrorism lies Anti- Semiticism.  

One of the biggests pleasures in this book is the opportunity to come in contact with the brilliance of Joseph Roth.  


As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I'm a bookseller, but I feel I'm always learning something from your posts. I've never read Joseph Roth, but you're right that this is the best tribute a reader can give: "One of the most sincere compliments a reader can pay to a writer is simply reading all their books you can. "

Heidi’sbooks said...

I never heard of this author, but the book sounds wonderful.