Joseph Roth, born Moses Joseph Roth (September 2, 1894 – May 27, 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.
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.
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.
Astonishingly, after his wife’s death he continued to write novels and other books every year, simply to scrape a living. In January 1939 Roth received an invitation from his translator Dorothy Thompson to attend the World Congress of Writers in New York, which might have enabled him to open a new chapter in the New World. However strapped to his pauper’s hospital bed in Paris with delirium tremens, having just finished his last book, The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Joseph Roth died a squalid death. He was only forty-four.
Did You Know?..
Roth’s wife was murdered by Nazis as part of their euthanasia of the mentally ill.