From Publishers Weekly
Joseph Roth was a master of the feuilleton, the genre that, always in highly individual fashion, comprises some mix of travelogue, reportage, short story and cultural and political commentary. The genre truly flourished in the 1920s and, more somberly, in the exile from Nazi-dominated Germany of the 1930s. Roth left Germany in 1925 for France, where he seems to have felt more at home. Paris dazzled him, and it shows in his writing, but the reports from the provinces are even more spectacular. Roth is captivated by the light of the south and its heady ethnic mix, by the traces of history he finds in the cathedral of Avignon and the pulsing activity on the Marseilles docks. In Lyons he finds silk workers whose very souls reflect the "shiny, luminous, glowing threads" with which they work every day. Lively, happy France is Roth's foil for a Germany where there is no fun to be had and everyone thinks in categories. In Paris, eastern European Jews can live as they please, and no one pays much attention to French anti-Semites. Roth's observations were not always accurate, but no matter. It is his acute sense for sights, sounds and smells, his insightful intelligence and, most of all, his sparkling prose, captured so well by Michael Hofmann's English, that are important. This volume is an excellent companion to the compilation of Roth's Berlin dispatches, What I Saw, published by Norton last year. It is a joy to read, even when the events turn grim. 40 illus. not seen by PW.
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Roth moved to Paris from 1920s Berlin (the venue for his journalism collected in What I
Saw, 2002). He sent German readers of newspapers such as Frankfurter Zeitung
these observations of their late enemy. Roth became entranced with France and wrote of it in an imaginative manner that was allusive rather than direct, evocative rather than descriptive. Roth's dispatches from the cities of the Rhone Valley and Provence, for example, elliptically call forth their histories--Roth never bluntly declaims, in guidebook fashion, that popes resided at Avignon or Romans at Nimes. Rather, Roth paints from their ruins and the faces of the living inhabitants a pointillist picture of the past. The paradoxically indistinct yet precise style extends to his pictures of the Parisian bistro scene, to his tour of the Somme battlefield, and to his book reviews as well, which don't so much lay down opinions as build layers of satire and irony. A laconic but trenchant stylist, Roth remains worth reading for the singular way he imparts the ambience of Europe between wars. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved