A História da 1002.ª Noite, de Joseph Roth
NOTA DE LEITURA
O escritor austríaco Joseph Roth apareceu-me pela primeira vez quando li o livro 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft, do alemão Volker Weidermann (prefiro o título da tradução inglesa, Summer Before the Dark: Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936). Continuei a ler sobre ele, a propósito dos livros de Irmgard Keun que foi amante dele durante ano e meio em Ostende. Por isso, procurei o livro A História da 1002.ª noite, que saiu em tradução portuguesa de Vanda Gomes no ano que findou. Quis ter também o original alemão que adquiri no Kindle por 46 cêntimos, acrescidos de 0,10 € do IVA português.
Por detrás de todo o livro está a constante tonalidade irónica do autor que surpreende o leitor. O personagem mais importante, Taittinger não chega ao fim do livro, suicida-se ingloriamente. O livro começa e acaba com uma visita a Viena do Xá da Pérsia, a primeira que o autor situa na Primavera de 18___ (sic) e a segunda 15 anos depois. Os comentadores situam a primeira por volta de 1873, data em que o Xá da Pérsia na realidade visitou Viena. O autor lembra também que duzentos anos antes (em 1683), os muçulmanos cercaram Viena e foram rechaçados.
O livro tem uma leitura fácil e está bem escrito. Diz-nos Sidney Rosenfeld, no seu livro Understanding Joseph Roth que apreciou a musicalidade da linguagem, a precisão e a vivacidade da descrição das personagens e dos lugares, a evocação dos humores e atmosferas nas suas subtis variantes… Infelizmente a musicalidade da linguagem não é possível apreciá-la na tradução portuguesa que é aceitável, mas não mais do que isso.
Traduções algo imprecisas:
Michael Hofmann, o tradutor da obra para Inglês (1998) traduz Ungeheuer por Monstros, dizendo no prefácio que Roth se refere certamente aos nazis.
Sidney Rosenfeld, Understanding Joseph Roth. University of South Carolina Press, 2001
Michael Hofmann, Prefácio da tradução inglesa, The Tale of the 1002nd Night, Janeiro de 1998
Leseprobe zu W. von Sternburg: Joseph Roth
06 Setembro 2016
Catarina Homem Marques
A História da 1002.ª Noite
E-Primatur 240 págs.
Da farsa à tragédia, do conto de fadas ao romance, o livro de Joseph Roth já está disponível para português
Se fosse o coronel Taitinger, protagonista de A História da 1.002ª Noite,
de Joseph Roth, a avaliar o próprio livro, apenas três classificações seriam
possíveis: enfadonho, indiferente ou encantador. É assim, com parâmetros
estreitos, que organiza o mundo, o que seria insuficiente no caso deste
clássico, agora publicado em português.
Como disse o tradutor do autor austríaco para a língua inglesa, "este livro é um conto de fadas que foi engolido por um romance" - e a parte de conto de fadas, neste caso importado do Oriente, está logo no título e no arranque.
O grande Xá da Pérsia, aborrecido com o seu harém, decide fazer um passeio ao império austro-húngaro, uma das grandes marcas na vida de Roth. Lá, depois de toda a pompa institucional e de já ter diminuído a graciosidade das mulheres ao compará-la com a de um cavalo branco, decide que quer passar a noite com uma oriental casada e de linhagem nobre.
É aqui que entra em campo Taitinger, barão, coronel em serviços especiais para a corte. Substitui a condessa por uma prostituta parecida, sua amante, sem que o Xá dê conta. E podia ficar tudo por aí, não fosse o impulso irónico e romanesco de Roth ter apanhado boleia de uma oferta de despedida do Xá, um valiosíssimo colar de pérolas, que faz o conto de fadas transformar-se em tragédia.
Essa noite sentenciará o declínio da carreira fácil do coronel, enviado de novo para a sua cavalaria e a ruína definitiva do rumo da vida de Mizzi, a prostituta, apaixonada pelo coronel e mãe do seu filho ilegítimo. Com eles, outros serão arrastados por uma roda do destino que parece esmagar tudo, mas sempre em tom de farsa.
O lado cómico-trágico é muito facilitado pela figura de Taitinger, o tal que divide o mundo em categorias simples mas se deixa atropelar pelo rumo da história, escondido dentro de uma bolha de "jovial falta de compaixão e incapacidade de ver muito além do momento, deixando vago muito espaço no crânio", como diz outra personagem, que até simpatiza com ele.
"Outrora, parecia que os acontecimentos lhe surgiam brilhantes, cheios de cor, flutuantes. Puxava-se por um fio, como a um balão, até nos aparecerem. Depois, quando começavam a tornar-se aborrecidos, soltava-se o fio (...) e depois desfaziam-se algures nas nuvens. Mas houve uns que não se desfizeram." O que tanto se aplica a vidas destruídas como a loiças roubadas na propriedade da família. Taitinger desencadeia tudo e sofre tudo, mas só muito perto do final se apercebe disso e de outra categoria do mundo: o incognoscível.
Der Alkohol hatte Joseph Roth schon fast elendig zugrunde gerichtet, als er diesen - seinen letzten - Roman schrieb. Seine Lebensumstände in dieser Zeit im Pariser Exil waren scheußlich und unter aller Würde. Umso erstaunlicher ist die glasklare Sprachgewalt, der Glanz und die Melancholie der Worte. Als ob Roth es allen noch einmal zeigen wollte, bevor seine Welt gemetzelt wurde. Der Kritiker Hermann Kesten spricht von "echter, liebesgieriger Verzweiflung" - und das trifft es genau.
Die Story ist genial: Ein gelangweilter Schah von Persien besucht seinen Amtskollegen, den Kaiser, in Wien. Zerstreuung sucht er. Auf einem Ball fällt ihm eine schöne Adlige auf und will sie auf sein Zimmer bestellen. Da er nicht versteht, dass dies in Wien nicht geht, es ihm aber auch niemand offen sagen kann, nimmt sich der schneidige Rittmeister Baron von Taittinger der Sache an. Eine seiner Gespielinnen, die Tochter des Ofensetzers Schinagl, sieht der Adligen nämlich sehr ähnlich. Der Schah merkt nichts, aber die Sache kommt heraus, denn der Schah schenkt dem Mädchen ein sehr wertvolles Perlenhalsband. Ein Skandal zieht herauf, die ganze Wiener k.u.k.-Blase platzt.
Roth, Joseph, Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht
In seinen beiden letzten Lebensjahren stieg die Schaffenskurve von Joseph Roth
noch einmal an: 1937 veröffentlichte er den kleinen Roman „Das falsche Gewicht“
und ein Jahr später die „Kapuzinergruft“, in der er den Trotta-Stoff wieder
aufnahm. In seinem letzten Roman „Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht“, der
wenige Wochen vor seinem Tod am 27. Mai 1939 erschien, kam Roth noch einmal zum
Thema der K.u.K.-Monarchie und speziell auf Wien zurück.
Der Roman ist durchgehend im Stil eines orientalischen Märchens erzählt. Der Schah von Persien hat 365 Frauen, doch er ist seiner vielen Haremsdamen überdrüssig. Bei einem Staatsbesuch in Wien lernt er auf einem Ball, der ihn zu Ehren gegeben wird, die Gräfin Helene W. aus Parditz in Mähren kennen. Die schöne Gräfin soll nun dem Herrscher für eine Liebesnacht zugeführt werden, doch die ist mit einem hohen Finanzbeamten verehelicht.
Diplomatisch eine überaus heikle Situation. Da hat der Rittmeister von Taittinger, der frühere Liebhaber der Baronin, eine glänzende Idee, denn seine bereits abgelegte Geliebte Mizzi sieht der Gräfin zum Verwechseln ähnlich. Mizzi Schinagl, Tochter eines Ofensetzers aus Sievering, hatte dem Rittmeister einen Sohn geboren. Der charmante, aber gerissene Taittinger zahlt keine Alimente, sondern hat Mizzi ein Bettwarengeschäft einrichten lassen. Nebenbei schafft Mizzi als Prostituierte noch in einem Bordell an.
Dem Schah von Persien wird also die falsche Frau zugeführt. Aus dem ersehnten herrschaftlichen Glück wird jedoch nichts, aber er macht Mizzi am nächsten Morgen ein wertvolles Geschenk: eine Kette aus drei Reihen schwerer großer Perlen im Wert von ungefähr fünfzigtausend Gulden. Auf einmal ist Mizzi Schinagl eine reiche Frau, aber das wertvolle Perlenhalsband wird ihr und Taittinger zum Verhängnis.
Mizzi landet schließlich hinter Gittern. Auch der Rittmeister muss beim Militär seinen Abschied nehmen, doch ein Leben außerhalb der Kaserne hat für ihn keinen Sinn. Als sein Gesuch um Wiederaufnahme abgelehnt wird, erschießt er sich. Damit zerplatzt für Mizzi der Traum von einem Leben als Baronin.
In dem deprimierenden Dekadenzgemälde „Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht“ blitzt die schriftstellerische Könnerschaft Roths ein letztes Mal auf. Vor dem Hindergrund erotischer Verwicklungen lässt er noch einmal alle Figurentypen seiner bisherigen Werke aufmarschieren. Roth zeigt die Menschen mit all ihren Schwächen und Fehlern und zeichnet ein melancholisches und gefühlvolles, aber gleichzeitig objektives Bild einer bereits vergangenen Epoche.
Mit „Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht“ setzt der Zürcher Diogenes Verlag seine meisterhafte Reihe mit den ungekürzten Joseph-Roth-Lesungen fort. Mit Michael Heltau wurde dabei ein einprägsamer Vorleser gefunden, denn niemand kann diesen Text wohl so verinnerlichen wie der österreichische Schauspieler und Sänger. Der Zuhörer taucht dabei in eine längst vergangene Zeit ein, die durch Heltaus unverwechselbaren Vortrag quasi wieder gefunden erscheint.
The New York Times
November 15, 1998
Scheherazade in Vienna
In Joseph Roth's last novel, the Shah of Persia visits the 19th-century Hapsburgs.
The 1914-18 war was called a ''world'' war, Joseph Roth said in one of his brilliant journalistic forays, ''not because the entire world had conducted it but because, owing to it, we all lost a world, our world.'' That world was the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy, a most unlikely force to hold sway over European politics. When Joseph Roth was born in 1894 in the Galician town of Brody, an eastern outpost, it had long been threatening to collapse if given a push.
Austrian policy, as many contemporaries noted, was a continual struggle to save face; it created a world of appearances doing its utmost to ignore reality. Of no institution was this truer than the Austrian Army, which was full of gloriously outfitted aristocrats on little pay and with rusty equipment -- until reality finally obtruded on the Eastern Front in 1914. After the war Austria lost nearly everything, including its monarchy, and was reduced to a rump of its original territory. Yet this unwieldy empire that stretched to the Mediterranean, with its 15 official languages and deeply conservative Catholicism, with its Jewish and Moslem subjects, left a mark on the 20th century like no other nation. Out of Vienna, its vaunted capital, in those golden years before the war came signal achievements in the arts and philosophy, and the prose and program of Hitler's ''Mein Kampf.''
After serving as a soldier in the Austrian Army, probably at a desk job, Roth became a correspondent for a number of German newspapers in the 1920's. Initially sympathetic to the Red cause in the civil war fought around his hometown (the Russian writer Isaac Babel wrote about Brody in his tense ''Red Cavalry'' stories), Roth began a 10-year association in 1923 with the Frankfurter Zeitung, one of Germany's best newspapers, renowned for its exacting literary standards. Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch were also associated with the paper, but Roth went out of his way to avoid them -- he had little time for intellectual writers.
He preferred to hit the road, filing copy to the newspaper from all over Europe: Albania, the Soviet Union, Poland, France and Mussolini's Italy. His articles were widely read and brought him handsome fees; some were collected as ''Wandering Jews'' (1927), an account of the hard life of the eastern Jews, scapegoats to all, not least to their assimilated western cousins in Vienna. Roth developed his mature style early and thereby staked his claim to literary fame. He eschewed the self-protective ironic distance of an intellectual like Robert Musil -- whose witty toilet term for the former empire, ''Kakania,'' did not go down well with Roth -- favoring the emotions of someone participating in history itself. There are more than 3,000 pages of reportage in the collected German edition of his works, and his colleague Soma Morgenstern was later to claim, somewhat disingenuously in view of the seamlessness of Roth's two activities, that his journalism was in fact his greater accomplishment.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Roth severed all ties with Germany. He went to live in Paris on the fame of his novel ''The Radetzky March,'' wrote for emigre publications and, already a drinker, drank harder than ever. He wrote much as he always had, sitting at the Hotel Cafe de la Poste near the Luxembourg Gardens, glass at hand. By then he had become an active monarchist, addressing Otto, the exiled son of the last Hapsburg Emperor of Austria, as ''Your Majesty.'' Roth's patriotism was a source of amusement, and irritation, to his fellow exiles. It was, however, no escapism. He continued writing to the end, never losing, like so many exiles, his sense of vocation. What he called the ''grace of misery'' kept him imaginatively supple, even in trying circumstances. He died in May 1939 in a Paris hospital, of pneumonia and acute alcohol withdrawal, leaving a threadbare suit, an overcoat and his manuscripts; and was interred in the Cimetiere Thiais, now a rather desolate place in a run-down region of outer Paris.
''The Tale of the 1002nd Night'' -- originally published by the Dutch house De Gemeenschap in 1939, when Austria had ceased to exist at all -- commemorates Vienna, the city recalled from a time when ''the world was deeply and frivolously at peace.'' It is a novel redolent of Vienna's streets and smells, its social rankings and architecture, and the whole contraption of administration that made Austria possible. Its title hints at a level of artificiality unusual for Roth: Michael Hofmann, the translator, calls it a ''fairy story that has swallowed a novel.'' Based on a visit by the Shah of Persia to Europe in 1873, it finds the ''Shah-in-Shah'' sojourning in the city the Ottomans failed to take by storm in the 17th century. Not satisfied with his 365 wives, the Shah wishes to sleep with a beautiful countess espied at a ball in his honor.
It falls to the Captain of Horse, Baron Taittinger, a character singularly lacking in insight but with a certain savvy in such matters, to fix the assignation. He replaces the countess, married and unobtainable, with his ex-mistress, Mizzi Schinagl, an ordinary Viennese girl who happens to resemble her. It is, he says, an ''approximation'': Mizzi works as a prostitute in a brothel. The Shah remains oblivious of the deception practiced on him, and afterwards sends Mizzi a string of pearls. The pearls must give off a subtle poison, since the lives of all who come in contact with them go awry; only the pearls remain unaltered, increasing fourfold in value in the course of the book.
As the story unfolds, social distinctions lose meaning, and money becomes a corrupting agent of exchange: having brought a Shah to a brothel, it brings the establishment's madam, Frau Matzner, to live in a respectable part of town; Mizzi, who sells the pearls for a fabulous sum, to prison for selling fake Brussels lace; and a gutter journalist, Lazik, to write a penny dreadful of Taittinger's role as pimp. Shamed out of the army, and burdened by Mizzi and their illegitimate son, Taittinger ends up purchasing for his mistress, once she gets out of prison, a garish waxworks -- the new World Bioscope Theater -- on the Prater with money he hardly has.
The supernumerary Arabian Night, the 1002d, returns to haunt the fairy tale like a scandal: the Shah returns to Vienna, farcically recapitulating his original visit. By now the novel has swallowed its own tail. Mizzi, the original double, appears, to Taittinger's chagrin, as a variety act in his waxwork show, in a tableau of the story of the pearls. Unable to return to the army (the Shah's visit has frozen all official business), Taittinger shoots himself, his life having become as waxy as everything in the panopticon he owns. And in this piling up of simulacra and doubles, Roth concludes with a chilling little cameo from the World Bioscope waxworker himself: ''I might be capable of making figures that have heart, conscience, passion, emotion and decency. But there's no call for that at all in the world. People are only interested in monsters and freaks, so I give them their monsters. Monsters are what they want!''
For all its lightheartedness the story ends on a note of dread: Roth is unsettlingly capable of writing in serious and comic modes at the same time, a register that Michael Hofmann, who is rapidly becoming an indispensable translator, captures with consummate skill.
We catch a sense of Roth's sad adoration of his vanished Austria-Hungary when
Taittinger returns to his estate in the Carpathians: ''The Mayor -- Wenk -- was
a German, one of a scattering of Saxon colonists who lived in the area. The
steward was from Moravia, the peasants were Carpathian Russians, the now-deaf
footman was a Hungarian, who had completely forgotten where he had come from,
and when and why. . . . The forester was a Ruthenian from Galicia; the Police
Sergeant came from Bratislava.'' We don't have to share the myth to feel that
his appeal on behalf of ethnic groups in the central Europe of the 1920's and
30's has immediate relevance to the Europe of today. That is an extraliterary
justification for reading Roth, though his wonderful style should be reason
enough -- for the way it plunges us into the swim of time, so cold it feels
warm, and just for a night.
Iain Bamforth, a British physician in Strasbourg, France, is the author, most recently, of ''Open Workings,'' a collection of poems.
The Washington Post
Sunday, January 10, 1999
The Tale of the 1002nd Night
By Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann
St. Martin's. 265 pp. $23.95
Reviewed by Michael Dirda, a writer and editor for Book World.
Heavy, lugubrious, probably a little tedious – a bit, in fact, like Thomas Mann or Hermann Broch but with even fewer laughs: Such was my vague impression of the dozen or so novels of the Austrian writer Joseph Roth (1894-1939). After all, Roth was a wandering Jew (and journalist) in between-the-wars Europe, an elegist of the tattered Austro-Hungarian empire, and, not least, a dedicated alcoholic, who died at 45 in Paris. There didn't seem much room here for Viennese gemutlichkeit, Lehar operettas and prancing Lippizaner stallions.
Still, Roth was said to be a major novelist, by Nadine Gordimer and Joseph Brodsky, among others. So when an English translation of "The Tale of the 1002nd Night" was announced, I steeled myself for a gloomy political fable about, say, the sickening rise of fascism – and instead found myself utterly surprised. "The Tale of the 1002nd Night" (1939) is sexy, highly ironic, sophisticated and funny. Even when sad, this entrancing book is sad in a cozy Chekhovian way. Moreover, it touches on congenial themes: how even the most experienced – a Middle Eastern potentate, a career army officer, a whore – may be fundamentally innocent; how a single impulsive act may echo through the years; how any of us can lose his way when life so often seems like a dream or a badly written play.
Roth opens and closes his novel with an Arabian Nights fantasy – the shah of Persia's two visits to fin-de-siecle Vienna in search of romance. On his first momentous trip, this sovereign finds himself utterly dazzled by the European women at a ball:
"Thus far, the women he had known had been of two kinds: either naked bodies or arrangements of drapery. But here were both together, at one and the same time! A gown that seemed to want to fall of its own weight, and yet clung to a body: it was like a door that wasn't locked and wouldn't open. When the women curtsied to him, the Shah caught a glimpse of cleavage and then the downy hair on an exposed neck. And the split second in which the ladies raised their skirts with both hands before bending at the knee had something indescribably modest and at the same time fabulously indecent about it: it was like a promise that they had no intention of keeping. . . . How inexhaustible," concludes the Persian, "the amorous arts of the Occident must be!"
The shah is particularly drawn to a young blond countess. "She was," writes Roth, "one of those women who, in those bygone days, were revered and adored for no other reason than their sheer beauty. One looked on for a moment, and felt so richly rewarded one felt like saying Thank you." The imperious monarch beckons to his grand vizier and tells him that he wants the countess and he wants her that very night.
What to do? As it happens, one of the shah's advisers has come to know a Baron Taittinger, an army officer and local bon viveur. The answer is simple, says Taittinger to a worried contingent of Persian and Austrian officials. We simply find a lady of the evening who resembles the countess. And, as it happens, the Baron knows just the woman – his own former mistress, Mizzi Schinagl, now working at Frau Matzner's brothel. So Mizzi is decked out in a ball gown, and the shah is led through the darkened corridors of what he thinks is a "fairy-tale Occidental castle"; a bliss-filled night fully convinces him "that the erotic arts of the West were considerably more sophisticated than those of his native land." (I love Roth's inversions of cultural stereotypes.) The next day the master of Persia orders his eunuch to deliver a gift to his "countess": an exquisite triple string of pearls.
At this point, Roth shifts the focus of the story to Mizzi and what she does with the pearls. Later, as in a round, he takes up the other morally flawed but very human figures touched by the sexual deception: the money-obsessed Frau Matzner; Taittinger, who finds that official Vienna shuns him as little more than a pander; and Lazik, a journalist desperate for a scandalous story to make his fortune. There is, eventually, a trial, a bankruptcy, an attempted murder, the opening of the World Bioscope Theater and a suicide – as well as several beautiful descriptions: of listening to band music while sipping coffee with whipped cream, of arriving late at night in a provincial town:
"It was evening when he got in. A thin chilly boring drizzle was coming down gently and persistently, giving the dismal yellow oil lamps on the platform a damp halo. Even the first-class waiting room harbored an oppressive gloom, and the potted palm on the buffet let its heavy slender leaves droop as though it, too, were standing out in the autumn rain. Two gaslights, the newly acquired pride of the station, had something wrong with their mantles, and gave out a flickering greenish glow. They emitted, what's more, a plaintive buzz, a lamentation. The white shirtfront of Ottokar the headwaiter bore sorry stains of unknown provenance. The metallic glitter of the Captain of Horse made a victorious entrance into all this gloom. Ottokar brought a Hennessy 'to take the chill off,' and a menu. 'We have soup with liver dumplings today, Baron!'"
Discovering so much enchantment in "The Tale of the 1002nd Night," in part for what translator Michael Hofmann calls its strong "fabulistic" element, I couldn't help but wonder how it compared to some of Roth's other novels. So I read three more of them. The early "Hotel Savoy" (1923) opens with a former soldier, newly released from a Russian POW camp, arriving in a gray, rain-swept industrial city somewhere in Central Europe. He checks into the local hotel, where he promptly falls in love with an unhappy exotic dancer, attends the deathbed of a vaudeville clown, becomes a millionaire's secretary and eventually finds himself entangled in a fiery workers' insurrection. There's clearly a lot of period symbolism here, and the short novel possesses a tone both Kafkaesque and expressionist: The boorish rich man's son ends up with the beautiful, doomed Stasia; the unseen and all-powerful manager of the Savoy turns out to be, in fact, its elderly elevator operator.
About "The Radetzky March" (1932), generally esteemed Roth's masterpiece, one can hardly be temperate: It's one of the most impressive novels of the century. When a common infantryman saves the Emperor's life at the battle of Solferino, he is elevated to the aristocracy and given the order of Maria Theresa. As a result, Captain Trotta feels alienated from his peasant father, and from his own true self. But he is locked into his new position, his new role – as will be his son, who becomes a government administrator, and grandson, who lives in the shadow of "the hero of Solferino."
The book is organized as a series of interlocking vignettes: young Carl Joseph's affair with the married Kathi Slama (who dies in childbirth); the destruction of a friendship and several lives by jealousy and the stupid code of military honor; the beautifully described death of an old family servant and its effect on the household's rigidly proper master. Reading these episodes, one murmurs "Turgenev, Pushkin, Tolstoy," but where the Russians would have written entire novels or long stories, Roth compacts everything into a stunning chapter or two. Take, for example, the brilliantly controlled pages in which Carl Joseph calls to offer his condolences to the broken-hearted Sgt. Slama, who at the end of their awkward conversation shyly gives the young officer a small bundle: the lieutenant's love letters to the constable's dead wife. As in "The Tale of the 1002nd Night," Roth presents a panoramic tableau of Austro-Hungarian society, from top to bottom. Interestingly, two minor characters in "The Radetzky March" are none other than Mizzi Schinagl – a fleeting passion of the civil administrator – and Baron Taittinger, an army colleague of young Carl Joseph.
I also read "The Legend of the Holy Drinker," Roth's last major work (1939), in which a drunken vagrant, who normally sleeps under the Paris bridges, becomes the astonished recipient of a largish sum of money, which he is told must eventually be returned to St. Therese. In the course of trying to repay his debt, Andreas meets a lascivious former mistress, a con artist and various other worldly figures, until an encounter with an innocent young girl leads him to fulfill his promise and find a happy death. It's a lovely tale, part Zola, part saint's life.
No doubt some of Roth's other novels – "Job," for instance – deal more directly with his Jewish heritage. But in these particular books Jews are largely submerged in the ethnic goulash of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a multilingual swirl of Ruthenians and Slovaks, Ukrainians and Galicians, Czechs and Serbs. One paragraph in "Hotel Savoy," depicting the Jewish quarter of town, does provoke a tellingly mournful observation: "For thousands of years this race has been wandering in narrow alleys." But then Roth has a way with epigrammatic similes. The dancers at the Savoy "stood there, white and naked like young swans." In "The Radetzky March" there are dazzling descriptions of Cossack horsemen, of dismal outposts of empire, of sumptuous dinners, of bearded patriarchs and lustful wives. But throughout his work Roth reflects an appealing Central European suavity, a mix of the elegiac, ironic and drily humorous: "I remember this same sadness when I looked at a girl. We met in a train and I did not know whether I had slept with her or whether she had only ironed my laundry."
What a marvelous writer! Read him now. You can thank me later.