Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

Michael Hofmann (ed.)

Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

The Austro-Hungarian novelist and essayist, Joseph Roth was born in Ukraine in 1894 and died in Paris in 1939. Having translated every other major Roth work including The Radetzky March, the award-winning translator Michael Hofmann presents this stunning new biography of the master novelist and legendary Euoprean journalist, told through letters. The letters span the breadth of Roth's life, from his schoolboy years — in letters to his girl cousins in the Austrian provinces — to the veteran of 44, marked by war, poverty, alcoholism, the loss of his wife through madness, and two decades of prolific work. It is a deeply moving portrait of the life of the writer as an outsider; in exile from a world he no longer recognized as his own. 4.4 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 512
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication February 2012
ISBN 978-1847083401
Publisher Granta Books
 

The Austro-Hungarian novelist and essayist, Joseph Roth was born in Ukraine in 1894 and died in Paris in 1939. Having translated every other major Roth work including The Radetzky March, the award-winning translator Michael Hofmann presents this stunning new biography of the master novelist and legendary Euoprean journalist, told through letters. The letters span the breadth of Roth's life, from his schoolboy years — in letters to his girl cousins in the Austrian provinces — to the veteran of 44, marked by war, poverty, alcoholism, the loss of his wife through madness, and two decades of prolific work. It is a deeply moving portrait of the life of the writer as an outsider; in exile from a world he no longer recognized as his own.

Reviews

The Spectator

Philip Hensher

These are extraordinary letters, as finely written as any letters of the century in a dark, impassioned, suffering cause. It is surprising that it has taken 40 years for them to make their way into English, but they have done so most beautifully and sensitively rendered by Michael Hofmann, who has lived with, understands, and warily respects Roth’s difficult spirit; the translator enters this writer’s world like a man entering a tiger’s cage.

04/02/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Julian Evans

Some readers might be disappointed that Roth writes so much about his personal problems, so little about his books or the process of writing. But what is on offer here is not a suave biography: it is instead an all-inclusive picture of what it was like to be a writer who, as he said, only understood the world when he was writing — and wrote magically beautiful books when he did. Michael Hofmann’s translation is superb.

03/02/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Ian Thomson

A Life in Letters, impeccably translated and edited by the poet Michael Hofmann, offers a vivid picture of Roth the man: his pleasures, foibles and, above all, his dislikes. Roth’s was certainly not a conciliatory spirit. His comments on other writers have mordant bite and are occasionally cruel. The Left-leaning novelist André Gide was merely “an actress” (une actrice) as well as a sentimental communist. Thomas Mann, for all his professed anti-Nazism, was “simply naive”.

07/02/2012

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The Sunday Times

William Boyd

Hugely valuable … These letters were not written with half an eye on posterity (as, say, were Virginia Woolf’s) and therefore their great merit lies in their unadorned honesty and the candid glimpses they reveal of the man himself — difficult, importunate, apologetic, malicious, feisty, wrong-headed, desperate, funny, bleakly revealing ... Hoffman translates with all the verve and confident brio that we would expect from one of our leading poets but also with a deep familiarity with the oeuvre itself.

12/02/2012

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The Independent on Sunday

Lesley McDowell

A biography might have ironed out Roth's relentless complaints about a lack of cash, but it would rob us of his voice. This volume of letters shows the man with all of his flaws and in a quite pitiless light ... [it] shows the struggle of the writer's life as it really is, devoid of the romance of the artist-in-a-garret stereotype.

19/02/2012

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The Guardian

Lara Feigel

This is an odd collection, in that there are no letters to Roth's wife or mistresses, and very few to his family. The descriptions of his romantic affairs are less frequent than the lists of his mounting debts. But it becomes clear that his passion lay more in literature and friendship than in love and marriage. In this respect the letters do enable us to access Roth's most fervent and personal side, most of all through the correspondence with Zweig.

25/02/2012

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The Literary Review

Daniel Johnson

Hofmann's translations are free, on occasion too much so, but always fluent and idiomatic. His editorial work, however, is marred by identification with Roth so overwhelming that it leads him into partisanship. Hofmann is the son of a distinguished émigré writer, so it may be natural for him to feel passionately about the issues that once divided that desperate community, but it is no part of an editor's role to pursue the literary disputes of exiles beyond the grave. Hofmann makes disparaging comparisons between Roth and Stefan Zweig throughout. As these letters amply demonstrate, neither was above reproach, but Zweig does not deserve to be posthumously belittled and doing so does not elevate Roth.

01/02/2012

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The Washington Post

Michael Dirda

Although it contains brilliant passages and apercus, these can only partly compensate for too many pages of business correspondence and grim 1930s-era ideological argument. As Hofmann tells us, none of Roth’s letters to his parents, wife and lovers survive. In those to publishers and friends, he mainly complains about how short he is on cash and how hard he’s been working. Over and over, Roth’s plaintive cry is “I am miserable, industrious, poor, and abandoned.”

15/02/2012

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