Joseph Roth, born Moses Joseph Roth (2 September 1894 – 27 May 1939), was an Austrian-Jewish journalist and novelist, best known for his family saga Radetzky March (1932), about the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, his novel of Jewish life, Job (1930), and his seminal essay "Juden auf Wanderschaft" (1927; translated into English in The Wandering Jews), a fragmented account of the Jewish migrations from eastern to western Europe in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution. In the 21st century, publications in English of Radetzky March and of collections of his journalism from Berlin and Paris created a revival of interest in Roth.
Born into a Jewish family, Roth was born and grew up in Brody, a small town near Lemberg (now Lviv) in East Galicia, in the easternmost reaches of what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire. Jewish culture played an important role in the life of the town, which had a large Jewish population. Roth grew up with his mother and her relatives; he never saw his father, who had disappeared before he was born.
After secondary school, Joseph Roth moved to Lemberg to begin his university studies in 1913, before transferring to the University of Vienna in 1914 to study philosophy and German literature. In 1916, Roth broke off his university studies and volunteered to serve in the Imperial Habsburg army fighting on the Eastern Front, "though possibly only as an army journalist or censor." This experience had a major and long-lasting influence on his life. So, too, did the collapse in 1918 of the Habsburg Empire, which marked the beginning of a pronounced sense of "homelessness" that was to feature regularly in his work. As he wrote: "My strongest experience was the War and the destruction of my fatherland, the only one I ever had, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary."
In 1918, Roth returned to Vienna and began writing for left wing newspapers, signing articles published by Vorwärts as Der rote Joseph ("The red Joseph"). In 1920 he moved to Berlin, where he worked as a successful journalist for the Neue Berliner Zeitung and, from 1921, for the Berliner Börsen-Courier. In 1923 he began his association with the liberal Frankfurter Zeitung, traveling widely throughout Europe, and reporting from the South of France, the USSR, Albania, Poland, Italy, and Germany. According to his main English translator, Michael Hofmann, "He was one of the most distinguished and best-paid journalists of the period, being paid at the dream rate of one Deutschmark per line." In 1925 he spent a period working in France. He never again resided permanently in Berlin
Marriage and family
Roth married Friederike (Friedl) Reichler in 1922. In the late 1920s, his wife became schizophrenic, which threw Roth into a deep crisis, both emotionally and financially. She lived for years in a sanatorium and was later murdered by the Nazis.
In 1923, Roth's first (unfinished) novel, The Spider's Web, was serialized in an Austrian newspaper. He went on to achieve moderate success as a novelist with a series of books exploring life in post-war Europe, but only upon publication of Job and Radetzky March did he achieve acclaim for his fiction rather than his journalism.
From 1930, Roth's fiction became less concerned with contemporary society, with which he had become increasingly disillusioned, and began to evoke a melancholic nostalgia for life in imperial Central Europe before 1914. He often portrayed the fate of homeless wanderers looking for a place to live, in particular Jews and former citizens of the old Austria-Hungary, who, with the downfall of the monarchy, had lost their only possible Heimat ("true home"). In his later works, Roth appeared to wish that the monarchy could be restored. His longing for a more tolerant past may be partly explained as a reaction against the nationalism of the time, which culminated in Nazism. The novel Radetzky March (1932) and the story "The Bust of the Emperor" (1935) are typical of this late phase. In another novel, The Emperor's Tomb (1938), Roth describes the fate of a cousin of the hero of Radetzky March up to Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938.
Of his works dealing with Judaism the novel Job is perhaps the best-known.
Being a prominent liberal Jewish journalist, Roth left Germany when Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor on 30 January 1933. He spent most of the next six years in Paris, a city he loved. His essays written in France display a delight in the city and its culture.
Shortly after Hitler's rise to power, in February 1933, Roth wrote in a prophetic letter to his friend, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig:
You will have realized by now that we are drifting towards great catastrophes. Apart from the private — our literary and financial existence is destroyed — it all leads to a new war. I won't bet a penny on our lives. They have succeeded in establishing a reign of barbarity. Do not fool yourself. Hell reigns.
From 1936 to 1938, Roth had a romantic relationship with Irmgard Keun. They worked together, traveling to various cities such as Paris, Wilna, Lemberg, Warsaw, Vienna, Salzburg, Brussels and Amsterdam.
Without intending to deny his Jewish origins, Roth considered his relationship to Catholicism very important. In the final years of his life, he may even have converted: Michael Hofmann states in the preface to the collection of essays The White Cities (also published as Report from a Parisian Paradise) that Roth "was said to have had two funerals, one Jewish, one Catholic."
Roth's last years were difficult. He moved from hotel to hotel, drinking heavily, and becoming increasingly anxious about money and the future. Despite suffering from chronic alcoholism, he remained prolific until his premature death in Paris in 1939. His novella The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1939) chronicles the attempts made by an alcoholic vagrant to regain his dignity and honor a debt.
Roth's final collapse was precipitated by hearing the news that the playwright Ernst Toller had hanged himself in New York.
Roth is interred in the Cimetière de Thiais, south of Paris.
- The Spider's Web (Das Spinnennetz) (1923, adapted in 1989 into a film of the same name)
- Hotel Savoy (1924)
- The Rebellion (Die Rebellion) (1924; some editions of the English translation call it simply Rebellion)
- "April: The Story of a Love Affair" (April. Die Geschichte einer Liebe) (1925; in The Collected Stories)
- "The Blind Mirror" (Der blinde Spiegel) (1925; in The Collected Stories)
- The Wandering Jews (Juden auf Wanderschaft) (1927; reportage, not fiction)
- Flight without End (Die Flucht ohne Ende) (1927)
- Zipper and His Father (Zipper und sein Vater) (1928)
- Right and Left (Rechts und links) (1929)
- The Silent Prophet (Der stumme Prophet) (1929)
- Job (Hiob) (1930)
- Radetzky March (Radetzkymarsch) (1932; some editions of the English translation call it The Radetzky March)
- The Antichrist (Der Antichrist) (1934)
- Tarabas (1934)
- "The Bust of the Emperor" (Die Büste des Kaisers) (1934; in The Collected Stories)
- Confession of a Murderer (Beichte eines Mörders) (1936)
- "Die hundert Tage" ("The Ballad of the Hundred Days") (1936)
- Weights and Measures (Das falsche Gewicht) (1937)
- The Emperor's Tomb (Die Kapuzinergruft) (1938)
- The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Die Legende vom heiligen Trinker) (1939)
- The String of Pearls (Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht) (1939)
- "The Leviathan" (Der Leviathan) (1940; in The Collected Stories)
- What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-1933, trans. by Michael Hofmann, New York: W. W. Norton & Company (2002)and London: Granta Books (2003)
- The Collected Stories of Joseph Roth, trans. by Michael Hofmann, New York: W. W. Norton & Company (2003)
- The White Cities: Reports from France, 1925–39, trans. by Michael Hofmann,London: Granta Books (2004); issued in the United States as Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925–1939, New York: W. W. Norton & Company (2004)
- Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters, trans. and edited by Michael Hofmann, New York: W. W. Norton & Company (2012)
- The Hotel Years, trans. and edited by Michael Hofmann, New York: New Directions (2015)
- Sins of Man, directed by Otto Brower (1936, based on the novel Job), starring Jean Hersholt
- Die Rebellion, directed by Wolfgang Staudte (TV film, 1962, based on the novel Rebellion), starring Josef Meinrad
- Die Legende vom heiligen Trinker, directed by Franz Josef Wild (TV film, 1963, based on the novel The Legend of the Holy Drinker), starring Hannes Messemer
- Radetzkymarsch , directed by Michael Kehlmann (TV film, 1965, based on the novel Radetzky March), starring Helmuth Lohner
- Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht, directed by Peter Beauvais (TV film, 1969, based on the novel The String of Pearls), starring Johanna Matz
- Beichte eines Mörders, directed by Wilm ten Haaf (TV miniseries, 1969, based on the novel Confession of a Murderer), starring Hannelore Elsner
- Trotta, directed by Johannes Schaaf (1971, based on the novel The Emperor's Tomb), starring Doris Kunstmann
- Das falsche Gewicht , directed by Bernhard Wicki (1971, based on the novel Weights and Measures), starring Helmut Qualtinger
- Stationschef Fallmerayer, directed by Walter Davy (TV film, 1976, based on the novella Stationschef Fallmerayer), starring Odile Versois
- Hiob, directed by Michael Kehlmann (TV miniseries, 1978, based on the novel Job), starring Günter Mack
- Tarabas, directed by Michael Kehlmann (TV film, 1981, based on the novel Tarabas), starring Helmuth Lohner
- Die Flucht ohne Ende, directed by Michael Kehlmann (TV film, 1985, based on the novel Flight without End), starring Helmuth Lohner and Mario Adorf
- The Legend of the Holy Drinker, directed by Ermanno Olmi (1988, based on the novel The Legend of the Holy Drinker), starring Rutger Hauer
- Spider's Web, directed by Bernhard Wicki (1989, based on the novel The Spider's Web), starring Ulrich Mühe, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Klaus Maria Brandauer
- Die Rebellion, directed by Michael Haneke (TV film, 1993, based on the novel Rebellion)
- Radetzkymarsch , directed by Axel Corti (TV miniseries, 1995, based on the novel Radetzky March), starring Max von Sydow and Charlotte Rampling