The Tale of the 1002nd Night

Joseph Roth, Author, Michael Hofmann, Translator St. Martin's Press $23.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-312-19341-6
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. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/1998
Release date: 11/01/1998
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