Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review of 'The Radetzky March' by Joseph Roth

It took me a while to get into this book, but I ended up loving it and feeling sorry that it had ended. It's a detailed, evocative portrayal of the end of the Hapsburg empire, and captures well the feeling of inevitability and sentimentality that characterised that ending, at least for some members of the Austrian elite. It's all there - the clash of nationalisms, the ossification of the monarchy in the person of Franz Joseph, the rise of the workers' movement, the stultifying formality and prison of manners. It focuses on the relationship between three generations of men - their mothers and spouses are barely present - and how they are each diminished by their relations with each other. Both father and son are in the shadow of the grandfather, who had accidentally been a hero at the battle of Solferino; the father loves his son but correctness and a sense of what is honourable and dignified prevents either of them having a proper relationship with each other. The grandson has a military career which brings him no sense of self-worth but finds it impossible to leave the army.

At first I found the detail crushing and a bit dull, but it become a way of making the characters real, so that the final unfolding with the outbreak of war feels like a personal tragedy that involves people you know; otherwise, as the author himself hints, the death of one young man among so many can have no significance.

Really enjoyed this, and will read more by Roth

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