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Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters Hardcover – January 16, 2012

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*Starred Review* “The main thing is experience, intensity of feeling, tunneling into events. I have experienced frightful moments of grim beauty.” Roth (1894–1939), a budding writer, sent these thoughts to his cousin Paula in 1917—words that took on enormous weight with crushing repercussions as he became an impassioned, incisively observant, renowned, and beleaguered journalist and novelist, crisscrossing Europe with laser eyes, tracking the early warning signs of monstrous catastrophes to come. Award-winning translator Hofmann has been instrumental in stoking new appreciation for Roth’s incandescent work (including his masterpiece, The Radetzky March), and now brings his profound fluency in Roth’s vision and writing to this accidental autobiography-in-letters, providing invaluable background and analysis in his refulgent commentary. In 457 arresting letters, Roth, a man of torrential talent, energy, and soul, blazes forth in all his fiery insight, prescience, wit, rage, and despair, chronicling a world succumbing to the apocalyptic spell of the Third Reich. Hardworking and hard-drinking, forever broke, embattled, and ill, Roth badgers editors and publishers, coos to admirers, and bellows, begs, whines, and confides to the famous and wealthy writer Stefan Zweig, Roth’s most generous and loyal ally and complete opposite. No letter collection is more intense nor more revealing of the anguished and heroic artistic struggle to confront horror with truth and beauty. --Donna Seaman


“Hofmann... makes a worthy Virgil through the inferno on display in these pages... Part of the pleasure of reading Joseph Roth—the novels, stories, journalism, letters all—lies in his synthesis of an easily acquired street sapience with a hard-won erudition. He has a 19th-century aesthetic molested by 20th-century crimes, a dignified formalism perverted by an absurdist undertow. Modernity for Roth is a hideous prank played on us by the angel of history.” (William Giraldi - Commentary Magazine)

“Reading Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters is like sitting across a café table from Roth himself... No standard biography of Roth exists in English, but this collection of his letters, superbly translated and judiciously edited by long-time Roth advocate Michael Hofmann, provides a more intimate portrait than any biography could.” (Roger Boylan - Boston Review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393060645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393060645
  • ASIN: 0393060640
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #543,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A great and prodigious writer, highly principled, conservative, pessimistic, ornery, chronically impoverished but munificent, artistically elitist, spirited and restless, driven and demanding, and a self-destructive alcoholic -- Joseph Roth was all of those things. He also was one of the most remarkable figures of the Twentieth Century. To me he personifies the tragic immolation of a culture and civilization that was the work of the Third Reich. Since first reading his masterpiece, "The Radetzky March", I have wanted to read a biography of Roth, but there is none in English. Now we finally have a book that, although not quite a perfect substitute for a first-rate biography, does provide an in-depth and nuanced portrayal of Roth, usually in his own words. And within its own genre, it is a first-rate book of letters.

JOSEPH ROTH: A LIFE IN LETTERS consists of 457 letters, perhaps 75% of which were authored by Roth, the remainder being letters sent to him. Twelve of the letters are from 1911 to 1924. The rest are from 1925 to January 1939, a few months before Roth died from alcohol. Roth's most frequent correspondent in these letters, by far, is Stefan Zweig. Other notable correspondents include Ernst Krenek, Klaus Mann, and Hermann Hesse.

Many of the letters deal with the mundane affairs and annoyances of being a working - extremely hard-working -- journalist and novelist. Some deal with matters of his personal life, including the hardships and grief associated with his wife's descent into schizophrenia. (She was eventually institutionalized and, the year after Roth's death, she was eradicated pursuant to the Nazis' euthanasia program.) Many letters show Roth scrambling or cadging for money. And some of them address his drinking.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on January 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Those interested in the life struggles of the talented writer Joseph Roth during the 1920-30s will enjoy this nicely edited book of letters. A good number of these are to or from Stefan Zweig, another noted European writer and patron of the perennially hard-up Roth.

Most of these letters are short complaints about uncaring publishers, cries for financial help, anguish over the ever-present need to write, or laments about his health.

However, Joseph Roth on larger matters saw clearly during a time of great political upheaval. He foretold the evil of Hitler but also rejected Stalin.

His advice (p.496): "Show equanimity to the world and give what you have in the way of goodness to three or four individuals, not to 'humankind.'"
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M.B. on January 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book will make you yearn for an era when beautifully-crafted sentences mattered and people communicated thoughtfully with one another in hand-written letters. Joseph Roth's correspondence is hauntingly poignant with razor-sharp insights. Thank you, Mr. Hofmann, for your loving translation. My life has been enriched.
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