Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth

Few people are fortunate enough to have a friend who loves reading at the same level. Fewer still have a friend who can be trusted enough to recommend books that “must be read.” I am fortunate enough to have several such friends. My first encounter with Joseph Roth is the result of such a friendship. To say I loved this novel amounts to the greatest understatement I could make about this sprawling epic of the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the outbreak of “the Great War” in 1914.

Roth has reminded me that my heart lies firmly in the 19th century – the Bront√ęs, Austen, Stendahl, Gaskell, Flaubert, and Thackeray, among others, all drove me to graduate school, and I still revel in the lush land of romantic and realistic literature of that period.

This novel of three generations, who revered and served Emperor Franz Joseph, encompasses not only the politics of the era but the relationships among fathers, sons, and even the memory of a deceased grandfather. The prose sparkles, and I am hard pressed to recall more than a few novels with prose so consistently beautiful, lyrical, and engrossing.

Normally, I provide a quote or two, but I could pull a paragraph at random from any page and give the slightest glimmer of the power of Roth’s artistry. The story he weaves holds the reader’s attention from page one through to 331. Even the introductory essay by Nadine Gordimer gushes with praise and allows the reader a glimpse or two into the magical, romantic, and psychological depth of these characters.

At times, I felt as if I were watching a film. The detail of the dress, the food, the carriages, and the houses had such precision and completeness of detail my mind had no trouble calling up clear images as backdrops for the story.

Roth wrote a sequel, The Emperor’s Tomb, and I already have it on my Amazon wish list. 10 stars for one of the finest novels I have ever read.

--Chiron, 4/11/09

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