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What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 Paperback – August 17, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


There is a poem on every page of Joseph Roth. (Joseph Brodsky)

Nonstop brilliance, irresistible charm and continuing relevance. (Jeffrey Eugenides - New York Times Book Review)

A singular achievement of both journalism and literature, a travel guide composed by a...poet who captured a city at its most cosmopolitan―and on the brink of collapse. (Thane Rosenbaum - Washington Post Book World)

About the Author

Joseph Roth (1894-1939) was the great elegist of the cosmopolitan culture that flourished in the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He published several books and articles before his untimely death at the age of 44. Roth’s writing has been admired by J. M. Coetzee, Jeffrey Eugenides, Elie Wiesel, and Nadine Gordimer, among many others.

For his translations, acclaimed poet Michael Hofmann has won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Dublin International IMPAC Award, the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, and The Schlegel-Tieck Prize (four times). He is the highly acclaimed translator of, among others, Kafka, Brecht, and Joseph Roth.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393325822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393325829
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on September 1, 2010
Format: Paperback
Not everyone likes Berlin. Joseph Roth didn't. He had moved there from Vienna in 1920 to make a career as a journalist and novelist. He succeeded, he became a well known `feuilleton' writer and he found a publisher for his novels. But his heart was not in the place. By 1925 he was happy to get an assignment to Paris. He still visited Berlin regularly until events in 1933 made emigration final.
He wrote articles for several papers. He saw his job as feuilletonist in the synthesis of facts and artful language. This is Wiki's definition of the term:

Feuilleton ( a diminutive of French: feuillet, the leaf of a book) was originally a kind of supplement attached to the political portion of French newspapers, consisting chiefly of non-political news and gossip, literature and art criticism, a chronicle of the latest fashions, and epigrams, charades and other literary trifles. The feuilleton may be described as a "talk of the town", and a contemporary English-language example of the form is the Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker.

In other words, he could write about whatever he pleased, and he did. This book collects articles that were published during his time in Berlin. He walked about and watched and listened and wrote. A feuilleton is not a political analysis, nor is it investigative reporting. We can't expect disclosures nor sharp analytical insights or political prophecies, but we do get astute observations and brilliant descriptions. He visits the Jewish quarters, meets refugees and asylum seekers, catches the mood in traffic and construction, visits places of culture and entertainment, including those where politics are made.
His visit to the place of the homeless reminded me of the totally different way that Orwell used in approaching the subject.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gio on October 20, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first 'feuilleton' in this thoughtful selection of Joseph Roth's newspaper articles from the 1920s sets the agenda. Roth wrote:
"Strolling around on a May morning, what do I care about the vast issues of world history.. or even the fate of some individual [who] in some way makes some lofty appeal to us? Confronted with the truly microscopic, all loftiness is hopeless, completely meaningless. The diminutive of the parts is more impressive than the monumentality of the whole. I no longer have any use for the sweeping gestures of heroes on the global stage. I'm going for a walk." There's a hint of Robert Walser, the happy-go-lucky flaneur, in this agenda, but Roth is too earnest to mean exactly what he says. All of us, himself included, spend most of our attention of the mere objects we encounter with our senses as we stroll through life. The unplanted vine curling up a wire fence holds our thoughts more than the fact that the fence surrounds a hospital. The sound of a civil defense siren being tested at noon on Wednesday occupies our mind more than the inevitability of atomic war. "In the face of the sunshine that spreads ruthlessly over the walls... anything puffed up and inessential can have no being. In the end ... I come to believe that everything we take seriously... is unimportant." Life, in other words, is a constant stroll through the immediate, through fleeting interactions with trivia. I dare say I agree; sitting at this keyboard, I'm more engrossed with the color of a strange wall than I am with world affairs. I have to assign my mind the task of thinking about Iran or global warming.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Although he was not exterminated directly by the Nazis (he died of alcoholism in Paris in 1939 at the age of 44), Joseph Roth surely was yet another of the victims of the insanity and inhumanity that convulsed Europe in the quarter century after WWI. In the 34 newspaper essays collected in this volume, Roth provides a mosaic portrayal of the aimless and bankrupt life (ethically and aesthetically) of Berlin that was the immediate precursor to the Nazi cataclysm.

The book has an unusual provenance. Roth began his career as a journalist in Vienna after getting out of the Austrian military at the end of WWI (he was born in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). In 1920 he moved from Vienna to Berlin, which remained his base of operations until 1933, when the Nazis came to power and Roth moved on to Paris. In the years 1920 to 1933, Roth was a widely-read and highly-paid journalist for several German newspapers; his specialty was the feuilleton, a short literary sketch or essay, often light in tone. Of the undoubtedly hundreds he penned during those years, these 34 were selected and published in German in 1996 as a walker's guide to Berlin. Then, in 2003, with the growing recognition in the English-speaking world of Roth's literary stature, they were translated by Michael Hoffman and published in English. I believe the book represents the first appearance in English of Roth's journalism, and while it certainly is a very valuable introduction, one can't help but wonder to what extent it is less than it might have been, both as an introduction to Roth's journalism and as a picture of Weimar Berlin, due to its genesis as a walking guide to 1990s Berlin.
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