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Rebellion: A Novel Hardcover – November 5, 1999

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Readers of Joseph Roth's entre-les-guerres masterpiece The Radetzky March might reasonably take him for a peculiar kind of royalist. Again and again the author declares his nostalgia for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had gone down in flames in 1918, even as he lampoons the regime's stodginess and casual cruelty. In his youth, however, he was an ardent man of the left, who earned the nickname der rote Roth: Red Roth. And his third novel, Rebellion, is perhaps the closest thing he ever wrote to an engagé work of fiction. Chronicling the trials (literal and figurative) of a downtrodden prole, Roth seems sincerely indignant--and he even allows his protagonist a fiery speech in the final pages, during which the Almighty Himself gets an effective spanking: "How impotent You are in your omnipotence! You have billions of accounts, and make mistakes in individual items? What kind of God are you?"

Prior to this point, Andreas Pum hasn't exactly been a model of biblical eloquence. After losing a leg in World War I, he's made his living as a beggar with a hurdy-gurdy, soliciting coins from passersby. This pious lamebrain does have the luck to marry a voluptuous widow, and for a brief moment he partakes of "a new and numbing blissfulness, which armors us against the offenses and hurts of the world." But a quarrel with a middle-class snob on a tram soon deprives Andreas of his wife, his beggar's license, and his freedom.

Thus begins his descent, which Roth narrates in such a rapid-fire style that this Viennese Job seems to hit bottom almost overnight. Perhaps Andreas's final jeremiad--and indeed, his transformation into a quasi-anarchist--betrays the hand of an ideological stage manager. Yet Roth was far too brilliant a novelist to dabble in social realism, and even his portrait of Andreas's sentencing judge is deliciously equivocating:

The judge himself was clean-shaven. He had an impassive face of granite majesty, like a dead emperor's. It was gray as weathered sandstone.... It was a face that might have looked heartless and implacable, had the middle of its powerful masculine chin not held an appealing, almost childlike dimple.
For this diehard fan of the Dual Monarchy, of course, the comparison to a dead emperor was the highest of compliments. But it was the novelist in Roth, not the left-leaning polemicist, who decided to add the dimple. --James Marcus

From Library Journal

Roth, author of Hotel Savoy and The Radetzky March, is perhaps the least known of the important Jewish writers of this century. This is the third of his 11 novels; its publication, according to the translator, brings all of Roth's oeuvre into print in English. Rebellion is the story of war casualty Andreas Pum, whose loss of a leg is rewarded only with a medal and a permit to play the hurdy-gurdy in the street. At first, all goes well, but one day he crosses a prominent burgher and is arrested. His permit is revoked, his new wife rejects him, and after a stint in jail his life deteriorates, ending in death. First published in 1924, Roth's book is full of pathos, charm, and stock but still ridiculous characters; it is essential for those who enjoy Jewish, German, and Eastern European literature of the early part of the century. Highly recommended.AHarold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (November 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312205740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312205744
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,614,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
As relevant today as in the 1920's when it was first published, this slim but remarkable work, Rebellion, chronicles the downward spiral of Andreas Pum. A simple man destined for a simple life founded on trust in god and the government, his life slowly crumbles as that destiny gradually evaporates. World War I takes his leg, yet he accepts his fate and proudly wearing his medal on his chest as he parades on his peg leg through the streets practicing his new trade as an organ grinder, complete with his official permit from the state. As he selects from the 8 cylinders of music, playing to the mood of the street, he sees himself as a true musician and patriot: "Was he not fulfilling his duty when he played his hurdy gurdy? Was not the permit pressed into his hands by the government in person, so to speak, as much an obligation as a concession?...his occupation could only be compared to that of service to the state, and his role with that of an official..." Life hangs by that permit and faith.
Like Job he gradually loses that faith, not denying, by reviling god. His child-like trust and dependence on the beneficence of the state are shattered as his permit, his right to exist, is taken. Chapter 7 and 8 of the book in particular capture how easily our lives can change by a simple encounter with others whom we do not know. Herr Arnold enters the tale in chapter 7, totally from the blue and in only a few pages, Roth captures as well as any author the psychology or rage and its transference onto others - road rage without the automobiles. Rebellion, though little known or read, belongs in the same exclusive club as the The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek and Kafka's The Trial.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James Cianci on February 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
At the close of the Great War, Andreas Pum - the protagonist of this, Joseph Roth's third novel - has lost his leg in the service of an empire that no longer exists. It seems to him a small price to pay for what he soon gains: a valuable permit from the authorities to operate a hurdy-gurdy anywhere in the city, a plump widow and her affectionate daughter, even an obedient donkey named Mooli who is his best companion, carting around the instrument for Andreas as he travels the city to play for pennies. Andreas is one of the few of his station who has not become disillusioned with his predicament, for he still believes in the old order, in the beneficence of his God and Government; indeed, he brands those who have lost their faith as "heathens." It is then that Andrea Pum begins his Job-like descent into despair, a Kafkaesque combination of bad luck and spitefulness which conspire to destroy him - he is deprived of his permit, his donkey, his wife and he is then jailed. He spends his final days as a bathroom attendant in a nightclub. Andreas rebels. But his rebellion is not so much against society as it is a rebellion against his perception of himself within this society, against the presupposed image of his self. Pum is a victim of a rules change where the order of the "belle epoque" has denigrated into the chaos of the modern world. Joseph Roth has crafted a compelling parable about a world in flux and its effect on the individual; we the reader can sympathize with the plight of Andreas Pum because we know that is just as easily could be us.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By vs on March 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In Kafka's "The Trial" God is already dead. Here, in "Rebellion", Roth shows how it all happened. Another book, which comes immediately to mind after finishing "Rebellion" is "The Overcoat" by Gogol: i would love to know whether Roth read it and was in any way influenced by it.
"Rebellion" is the first novel Roth has written. I read it right after "The Radetzky March", in the wrong order, so to speak. Surely it's even less nuanced, but there's some great truth in Roth's writing, ability to present general and symbolic ideas using everyday life details.
The book is a bit sentimental and melodramatic, still it has something real about it, like any other great work of literature. I am planning to continue with Josef Roth, with his fiction - and, especially - with his journalism. Considering the quality of his fictional prose, it must be of the highest quality.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Opa Wayne VINE VOICE on April 23, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rebellion, by Joseph Roth, reminds me a bit of the aftermath of the Vietnam war.
What do we do with disabled veterans? Does a combat veteran's service entitle him to health care for his wounds and occupational training to secure him a civilian job? Are veterans entitled to the respect of the citizens and officials of the country they served? Many Vietnam veterans claim their service was not honored in the USA. Set in Austria at the end of World War I, "Rebellion", a novel by Joseph Roth, dramatizes the question of the handling of veterans of any war.

In "Rebellion", Andreas Pum, an Austrian World War I disabled veteran expected that the Austrian nation would secure his daily needs. Many of his fellow veterans were placed in the hospital, while some were sent away with nothing. Authorities gave Andreas a medal and pensioned him to a job playing a crank model barrel organ, which he calls a "hurdy-gurdy". Andreas lost a leg in the war, but despite his disability he gets a permit to seek alms by playing his barrel organ in streets of the city. He is a happy and hopeful man, who still believes in his country, his government, and his God. .

Rebellion is a classic allegorical novel, that many claim is based upon the Bible's book of Job. There are many similarities between the stories of Job and Andreas. Comparing the two in detail could spoil the book for some people. Instead, I will focus upon general themes.

There are two themes in Rebellion worth noting. First this is a novel about social justice and politics. What rights does a citizen have? Are the rights different by economic class, gender, and ethnic background? Does God or government grant and enforce those rights? Are the police and courts a tool of influential citizens?
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