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The Tale of the 1002nd Night: A Novel Paperback – October 29, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Before his death in 1939, Joseph Roth produced 13 works of fiction--most of them sardonic valentines to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a Galician Jew, not to mention a biting social critic, Roth knew that life under the Dual Monarchy was not exactly flawless. Yet he retained a deep attachment to the old regime, which must have looked more and more civilized as the Nazis came to power. In 1933 he fled to Paris, where he commenced a slow, alcoholically induced suicide--managing, however, to write several more books, of which The Tale of the 1002nd Night was the last to appear.

Like so many of Roth's novels, this one is a celebration of Vienna in its pre-Anschluss days--during the 1870s, to be precise. "At this time," we're informed, "the world was deeply and frivolously at peace." In keeping with the frivolity, perhaps, Roth puts a fairy-tale-like spin on his memories. He opens The Tale of the 1002nd Night with a state visit by the Shah of Iran, transforming historical fact into whimsical fiction. And once he shifts the narrative to Vienna proper, his characters make their entrances and exits with brilliant, dreamlike rapidity. It would be tempting to compare the entire story--which revolves around the seduction and abandonment of the prostitute Mizzi Schinagl by the boneheaded Baron Taittinger--to a puppet show. But these puppets are capable of registering deep pain and transformation. Taittinger, for example, gets to utter the first honest sentence of his adult life: "He had caught himself telling the truth; and for the first time in many years he blushed, the way he had once blushed as a boy when he'd been caught telling a lie." And even Mizzi, the flattest character in a book full of wafer-thin ones, has her moments of electrifying humanity:

She became terribly sad. Her simple soul was briefly illumined, indirectly and at a lower wattage, by the light that makes older and wiser people so happy and so sad: the light of understanding. She understood the sorrow and futility of everything.
Roth, too, understood that sorrow. But in The Tale of the 1002nd Night, which has been beautifully translated by Michael Hofmann, he counters its gravitational pull with small, stunning perceptions and a kind of bemused decency. Indeed, Roth the novelist has precisely the "calculating kindliness" he ascribes to one Herr Efrussi--and this, he goes on to point out, is "the only sort that doesn't wreak destruction on this earth." --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A master fabulist and linguistic architect, Roth (1884-1939) examines the cultural crucible of fin de si?cle Vienna through the eyes of his protagonist, the Persian monarch Shah-in-Shah. Seen this way, Roth's Vienna is, as the novelist Hermann Kesten put it, "an exotic old-Austria, a kind of vanished, fairy-tale Wild East." Things do get wild when the Shah, whose harem back at home is 365 wives strong, decides to sample "the amorous arts of the Occident." His unwitting encounter with a Viennese prostitute sets in motion the novel's Byzantine plot contortions and introduces a cast of eclectic characters. Roth's (The Emperor's Tomb; The Leviathan) antic playfulness is, however, tempered by a serious consideration of the customs of the times. The Shah's visit upsets Viennese society at every level as it destabilizes social hierarchies and calls character into question. Roth decorates his well-wrought plot with lush description as he waxes philosophical on destiny and responsibility. Originally published in 1939 by the Dutch firm of De Gemeenschap, this historical novel proves its staying power, despite the tests of time and translation. Agent, Jennifer Lyons at Joan Daves Agency.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (October 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312244940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312244941
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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... the Shah-in-Shah, the exalted, holy ruler, the absolute lord of all the lands of Persia, began to feel a kind of malady he'd never felt before..."

Joseph Roth's "Tale of the 1002nd Night" begins sketchily. It's hard to tell, though the first 60-70 pages, whether the book aspires to be a broad satire of autocracy both Persian and Austrian, or a genial fairy tale of the Arabian Nights genre. Roth is pungent as a satirist, as caustic as anyone could wish, but this satire seems altogether too bloodless, like the synopsis of a Rossini opera without the music. For a man who wrote diligently and copiously, Roth was not a disciplined writer, and for a journalist who foresaw the course of German and world history through the '20s and '30s with devastating acumen, he was probably not a disciplined thinker. One has the impression that he sat down in a cafe one day, had an idea for a novella about the visit of an Oriental despot to Old Vienna, and started writing...

The Shah comes to Vienna. He is dazzled, momentarily. At an Imperial ball, he notices a beautiful Countess, falls in lust at first sight, demands that she be procurred. Consternation! The court eunuchs and the Viennese police crave help from a certain Baron Taittinger, a feather-brained officer of cavalry on special court assignment. Taittinger 'supplies' his own mistress, Mizzi Shinagl, who has become a prostitute after being seduced by the dashing baron himself. The Shah is bamboozled, spends a night of bliss with Mizzi, wakes the next morning with his old malaise unrelieved, orders his eunuch to buy the false countess a gift -- a string of pearls worth a royal ransom, as it turns out -- and returns glumly with his harem of 365 to his own realm....

... and that's when the novel really begins!
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Format: Paperback
Joseph Roth's last full length novel is, as usual for him, a surprise. Published during the year of his death in exile in Paris, 1939, it contains no trace at all of its times.

It is a `historical' story, going back to Vienna in the previous century. It starts like a light-handed comedy, but turns into a dark tale of decadence and ruin. Main protagonists are a brainless aristocratic playboy (an officer and a gentleman), who is utterly destroyed by his own stupidity, and his naïve romantic girlfriend from simple circumstances, who has an illegitimate son from him, drifts into the service industry, strikes it rich, temporarily, due to unlikely events (see the novel's title), then loses all and more, due to her own simplicity. Catalysts of bad fate are a smart `business woman' who causes the downfall of the girl, and a reporter in need of cash who finishes the fool.

The novel is to some extent less `Rothian' than most of his other fiction. It has a touch of Maupassant. So maybe his Parisian exile did have an effect after all? One could say, it is more conventional than many of his shorter texts.
The baron has a property at the end of the Austrian world, which is run by an administrator who robs the baron blind. There is a scene when the baron receives a letter from his manager, informing him about his imminent ruin. The baron is bored, which reminded me of Gogol's Dead Souls. In a similar situation, the landowner says to his manager: why do you have to give me the bad news? Tell me something happy, so that I forget the bad news!
Compared to his last published piece of fiction, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, which was written and set in Paris, this novel is a straightforward tale.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book very much. Roth is a much under appreciated author today and his style of writing is as modern as anyone's. While the plot meanders along a trite line, the heart of all Roth's work is the Austro-Hungarian Empire and all it's failings in morals, people and politics. This, along with Roth's Radetzky March, and you will have all you'll ever need to know about that important era.
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Format: Paperback
This quotation from the introduction by Michael Hofmann, poet and translator of four Roth novels, highlights both the delights and limitations of this book. Like the Radetzky March, it has all the ingredients for a greatly exciting read and touches on all aspects of society in the Austro-Hungarian empire--worlds of the court, the army, journalism, night life, the law, popular entertainment, and even prostitution.

Unlike the Radetzky March, however, it is sketchy, and doesn't draw you into the action or involve you with the characters. There's a curious disconnect between the characters and the reader, akin in many ways to the disconnect between most of the characters and each other, perhaps because there are many of them in this short novel, and perhaps because Roth himself felt disconnected, living in exile and dying of alcoholism at the time he wrote it.

The visit of the Shah of Persia and his one-night-stand with a young Viennese woman provide fertile ground for wonderful dialogue and lyrical descriptions, but the characters are like exhibits in the wax museum which plays a part in the conclusion of the novel. In short, this novel is intriguing primarily for its detailed and exacting recreation of an historical context, but its large scope and small size act as barriers to reader involvement. Mary Whipple
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