cover image Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

Joseph Roth, edited and trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. Norton, $39.95 (576p) ISBN 978-0-393-06064-5

Prolific, peripatetic, prickly, and best known in his time as a journalist, Joseph Roth (1894–1939) has since taken his place beside Thomas Mann (whom he loathed), Robert Musil (whom he disliked almost as much), and Alfred Döblin among the giants of 20th-century German and Austrian literature. English readers will find a tormented, perennial fist-shaker in the more than 450 letters by Roth, from 1911 to 1939 (a few addressed to him), skillfully translated and nimbly edited by Hofmann, and previously only available in a 40-year-old German-language collection. Though at times gossipy, with opinions on everyone from Thomas Mann to Austrian publishers and his own Jewish background, Roth reveals himself detesting Hitlerism early and to such a degree that from the dawn of 1933 he left Germany permanently. To his good friend and fellow writer Stefan Zweig, the recipient of many of the letters, Roth wrote, “The barbarians have taken over. Do not deceive yourself. Hell reigns.” Roth was also no fan of Soviet communism. Alcohol addiction left Roth (The Radetzky March) in increasing desperation. Perhaps fittingly, Roth died at the edge of the world calamity he had projected. (Jan.)