The Radetzky March

The Radetzky March

Book - 1996
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By one of the most distinguished Austrian writers of our century, a portrait of three generations set against the panoramic background of the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire. Translated by a three-time winner of the PEN Translation Prize.

Publisher: New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1996
ISBN: 9780679451006
Branch Call Number: FICTION Rot
Description: xliii, 331 pages ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Neugroschel, Joachim


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Feb 12, 2020

Even though the book runs to only 331 pages, it is epic in scope and I found it impossible to read it quickly. There is a pace to the novel which cannot be ignored or speeded up. Roth succinctly states the pulse of that society when he writes: "Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten."
The whole thing is a gigantic tableau depicting a lost world; within it are numerous lesser tableaux, each illuminating another aspect of the crumbling Hapsburg empire. And, similar to my experience on viewing Boticelli's "Primavera", I felt compelled to dwell on each of the images while at the same time being dazzled by the totality of the entire piece. Taking my analogy of a painting a bit further, Roth pauses the action of his story several times and compels the reader to pause as well, while he draws another piece of the picture: on the eastern border, we are treated to a brilliant account of Cossack horsemen showing off their prowess; in Vienna, we watch the magical Corpus Christie procession; a party is in progress when word arrives of the assassination of the heir to the throne and the scene descends into a bizarre funeral march led by a drunken band that speeds up, mirroring the final dissolution of the empire.
This book is not a piece of nostalgia: it depicts a dance of death rather than a golden age. Administrative bureaucracy thrives:
"Immense files swelled around the Trotta case, and the files grew, and every department in every agency splattered a little more ink on them, the way one waters flowers, to make them grow."
There are no heroic figures here; vast resources are devoted to a decorative standing army, which descends into mass desertion and chaos at the outbreak of war.
"The world worth living was doomed. The world that would follow it deserved no decent inhabitants."

Mar 11, 2016

Joseph Roth’s "The Radetzky March" traces the history of the Trotta family across three generations. The grandfather, Joseph, saved Emperor Franz Joseph’s life at the Battle of Solferino, an act that helps and haunts the family across the years. The novel parallels and intertwines the connection between sons and fathers in the Trotta family with the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its subjects. In both cases, the head of the family/empire becomes a symbol that proves to be wildly overblown, causing members on both sides of the relationship to struggle with unrealistic expectations.

Roth proves to be a little heavy-handed at times but usually he displays a deft and humorous touch. Roth takes a complex look at causes leading to the disintegration of the empire—while he finds fault with the codes of honor of the older generations, Roth highlights the greater danger from the lack of values in his own generation. Roth’s view of the empire adds to the ambiguity in the novel. Roth recognizes that the empire requires a monarchy with a strong personality in order to unite its disparate nationalities, but that is not the same as endorsing such an arrangement. Such a recognition points to reasons for the dissolution—weakness from above combined with increasing disunity and rot from below. Pressure from outside the empire is certain to destroy it since the empire has been hollowed out, the weakening of a common vision or purpose the catalyst to its collapse.

Highest recommendation.

Jan 28, 2011

If you haven't yet read Joseph Roth, its' time to start, and start with The Radezky March, a masterpiece about the disintegration of empires and those who live and die by them.


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