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The Excavation

Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann, 4 January 2001

... The summer​ lay there, waiting to finish. Autumn was when the strangers were expected, the hop merchants from Austria, Germany and England, the rich men off whom many people in our town made their livings. The summer lay there, and it spawned various illnesses. People got belly-aches and died from eating rotten fruit, the water ran out in the wells, a couple of pine forests burned down, and the dry grass on the steppes caught alight ...

Conspiratorial Hapsburger

Michael Hofmann, 5 March 1987

Hotel Savoy 
by Joseph Roth, translated by John Hoare.
Chatto, 183 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 7011 2879 8
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... When Joseph Roth was asked once to write about his earliest memory, he described how as a baby he had seen his mother strip his cradle and hand it over to a strange woman, who ‘holds it to her chest, as though it were some trifling object of negligible dimensions, speaks for a long time, smiles, showing her long yellow teeth, goes to the door and leaves the house ...

Empire of Signs

James Wood: Joseph Roth, 4 March 1999

The String of Pearls 
by Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Granta, 224 pp., £12.99, May 1998, 1 86207 087 3
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... With Joseph Roth, you begin – and end – with the prose. The great delight of this Austrian novelist, who wrote in the Twenties and Thirties, lies in his strange, nimble, curling sentences, which are always skewing into the most unexpected metaphors. It is rare to find luminous powers of realism and narrative clarity so finely combined with a high poetic temperature ...

Nobody is God

Robert Taubman, 4 February 1982

Rabbit is Rich 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 467 pp., £7.95, January 1982, 0 233 97424 5
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Charlotte: Life or Theatre? 
by Charlotte Salomon.
Allen Lane, 784 pp., £30, September 1981, 0 7139 1425 4
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Weights and Measures 
by Joseph Roth.
Peter Owen, 150 pp., £7.50, January 1982, 0 7206 0562 8
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by Rolf Schneider.
Hamish Hamilton, 235 pp., £7.95, July 1981, 0 241 10347 9
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... the confidence, the self-deprecating humour and the sense of danger to be found in the whole work. Joseph Roth was a survivor from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which he made the object of both affection and criticism in his novels. He is best-known for a family history, Radetsky March. Weights and Measures is a short piece, first published in 1937; like a ...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 4 August 1983

... pylons walking through the erasures in the Bayrischer Wald ... Once before, I left some lines of Joseph Roth bleeding on your desk: ‘I had no father – that is, I never knew my father – but Zipper had one. That made my friend seem quite privileged, as though he had a parrot or a St Bernard.’ All at once, my nature as a child hits me. I was a ...

Vermicular Dither

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

The World of Yesterday 
by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell.
Pushkin Press, 474 pp., £20, 1 906548 12 9
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... dreary and clothy sprog of the electric 1880s; this un-Austrian Austrian and un-Jewish Jew (Joseph Roth – who has certainly spoiled me for Zweig – was both, to the max); not a pacifist much less an activist but a passivist; this professional adorer, schmoozer, inheritor and collector, owner of Beethoven’s desk and Goethe’s pen and Leonardo ...

At the Orangerie

Michael Hofmann: Marc and Macke, 20 June 2019

... In​ an essay entitled ‘Twenty Minutes from before the War’, Joseph Roth describes how in the 1920s French cinema audiences (and no doubt others elsewhere in Europe) lapped up compilations of pre-1914 documentary footage. They watched endless shots of military parades and goosenecked beauties with hats and fans and all-day hairstyles and floor-length dresses and gentlemen in full fig and they died laughing ...


Michael Hofmann, 23 May 1996

Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew 
by John Felstiner.
Yale, 344 pp., £19.95, June 1995, 0 300 06068 8
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by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris.
Sun & Moon, 261 pp., $21.95, September 1995, 1 55713 218 6
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... in Jewish populations, in the Eastern marches of Austria-Hungary (think of the Galician, Joseph Roth). In Celan’s case, this came to him from his mother: German was, in every sense, his mother-tongue. Already as a boy, he loved poetry, first Goethe and Schiller, then Hölderlin, Heine, Trakl, Kafka and in particular Rilke. He spoke ...
... useful not to be pure. If I may return to the question: don’t you feel yourself, you Philip Roth, ‘rooted’ in your country, and at the same time ‘a mustard grain’? In your books I perceive a sharp mustard flavour. I think this is the meaning of your quotation from Arnaldo Momigliano. Italian Jews (but the same can be said of the Jews of many ...

To Live like a Bird

Mark Rudman, 1 June 2000

Approximately Nowhere 
by Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 77 pp., £7.99, April 1999, 0 571 19524 5
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... debased by Nazism. Hofmann is a prolific translator of German prose (Kafka, Wolfgang Koeppen, Joseph Roth and currently Gert Hofmann). He is also editing the selected works of Rilke. His own poetry enjoys a tacit dialogue with the works of Rilke and Hofmannsthal, and suggests a sympathy for the values of High Modernist Vienna (the European precursor ...

Praying for an end

Michael Hofmann, 30 January 1992

Scenes from a Disturbed Childhood 
by Adam Czerniawski.
Serpent’s Tail, 167 pp., £9.99, October 1991, 1 85242 241 6
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Crossing: The Discovery of Two Islands 
by Jakov Lind.
Methuen, 222 pp., £14.99, November 1991, 0 413 17640 1
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The Unheeded Warning 1918-1933 
by Manes Sperber, translated by Harry Zohn.
Holmes & Meier, 216 pp., £17.95, December 1991, 0 8419 1032 4
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... of what interests me in Sperber comes from the fact that he was born ten years after the novelist Joseph Roth, and that his life follows the same movements as Roth’s: born in a village in Galicia, came to Vienna as a child, went to Berlin in the Twenties, visited the Soviet Union, and went into exile in ...


Michael Hofmann: Zagajewski’s Charm, 15 December 2005

Selected Poems 
by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh, Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry and C.K. Williams.
Faber, 173 pp., £12.99, October 2004, 0 571 22425 3
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A Defence of Ardour: Essays 
by Adam Zagajewski.
Farrar, Straus, 198 pp., $14, October 2005, 0 374 52988 4
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... and absence. ‘A Morning in Vicenza’ goes on to become an elegy to two admired friends, Joseph Brodsky and Krzysztof Kieslowski, but it could have gone anywhere (I quoted the first of its three stanzas). This unpredictability, storylessness, geographical unattachment, is a feature of Zagajewski; the Selected Poems (cut down from a somewhat longer ...

Proust? Ha!

Michael Hofmann, 21 August 1997

A Book of Memories 
by Péter Nádas, translated by Ivan Sanders and Imre Goldstein.
Cape, 706 pp., £16.99, August 1997, 9780224035248
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... that are wall-to-wall English-language originals. Chatto – home of Chekhov, Proust and Joseph Roth – recently went through three or four seasons without any translations at all. Obviously, publishing isn’t what it was, the bottom line has risen inexorably, there were all the huge and much-bruited takeovers and mergers and acquisitions, but ...

Wannabe Pervert

Sam Thompson: Howard Jacobson, 25 September 2008

The Act of Love 
by Howard Jacobson.
Cape, 308 pp., £17.99, September 2008, 978 0 224 08609 7
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... loads the chapters with epigraphs from Bataille, Sacher-Masoch, Great Expectations, Montaigne, Joseph Roth, The Winter’s Tale and so on: the impression is of a glove-like fit between the narrator’s linguistic and allusive range and the author’s. Felix is not so much an unreliable narrator as a sinisterly ubiquitous one, smoothly present at all ...

They can’t do anything to me

Jeremy Adler: Peter Singer, 20 January 2005

Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna 
by Peter Singer.
Granta, 254 pp., £15.99, July 2004, 1 86207 696 0
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... culture, more than once invoking its ‘coffee and cake’. The bourgeois consumption that Joseph Roth mocks in Zipper and His Father has nothing to do with the rough and tumble of coffee-house debate. But in Vienna ‘life was good,’ Singer assures us. ‘It was not difficult to earn an income sufficient for a comfortable apartment with a ...

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