The Roth Revival
roth photo Vulitse Josefa Rota

The Roth Revival


With the publication of Michael Hofmann’s edition of Joseph Roth:A Life in Letters by Granta and my own Wandering Jew by Notting Hill Editions, a Roth revival seems to be heartily under way. Here are the comments from the broadsheets on the latter:

Simon Schama in Financial Times: As Dennis Marks points out in his brilliant little study Wandering Jew: The Search for Joseph Roth, published last year, the facts of his life are notoriously difficult to disentangle from his autobiographical inventions.

Lara Feigel in Guardian: These letters prove the ideal medium to get to know a man who resisted conventional biography, occluding his own life in myth. In Wandering Jew, a fascinating exploration of Roth’s Galacian origins, Dennis Marks describes Roth as “one of literature’s most prodigious liars”. Roth continually reinvented his birthplace and early history, and often contradicted himself.


William Boyd in Sunday Times: For English readers who love Roth’s work (these letters) are the closest thing we have to a biography of Roth, although Dennis Marks’ shrewd and engaging monograph The Wandering Jew: The Search for Joseph Roth is  perfect accompaniment.


Paul Bayley in The Independent: As Dennis Marks notes in his thoughtful monograph, The Radetzky March could have been one of those sagas tracing a family’s fortunes over several generations, but it isn’t. It is an enduring masterwork by virtue of encompassing the lives of the unimportant who were happy with their lot as long as the Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary was allowed to flourish. Roth’s birthplace was part of that once mighty empire, and his most original novel is an elegy, often comic, for its loss. Marks is probably right when he calls Roth a “self-hating Jew”. Yet I think the self-hatred goes deeper than that.


In point of fact, what I actually said was that some Jewish commentators considered him a “self-hating Jew” but never mind, it all adds to the dialogue about his importance in the German literary canon between the wars. If you can rustle up the cover price (Amazon is, needless to say, discounted) then please buy Hofmann’s irreplaceable collection of the letters. It’s a revelation and the last hundred pages are heart breaking.

Now I have to encourage an equivalent revival in the study of the impressive life and wonderful music of Michael Tippett in the biography of the composer which I have just started to research..

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