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What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth 

What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth

 

 
 
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Published:  May 06, 2011
 
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Slide 1: What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth A Masterpiece Of Journalistic Force And Observation [Joseph Roth] is now recognized as one of the twentieth centurys great writers.—Anthony Heilbut, Los Angeles Times Book Review) The Joseph Roth revival has finally gone mainstream with the thunderous reception for What I Saw, a book that has become a classic with five hardcover printings. Glowingly reviewed, What I Saw introduces a new generation to the genius of this tortured author with its nonstop brilliance, irresistible charm and continuing relevance (Jeffrey Eugenides, New York Times Book Review). As if anticipating Christopher Isherwood, the book recreates the tragicomic world of 1920s Berlin as seen by its greatest journalistic eyewitness. In 1920, Joseph Roth, the most renowned German correspondent of his age, arrived in Berlin, the capital of the Weimar Republic. He produced a series of impressionistic and political essays that influenced an entire generation of writers, including Thomas Mann and the young Christopher Isherwood. Translated and collected here for the first time, these pieces record the violent social and political paroxysms that constantly threatened to undo the fragile democracy that was the Weimar
Slide 2: Republic. Roth, like no other German writer of his time, ventured beyond Berlins official veneer to the heart of the city, chronicling the lives of its forgotten inhabitants: the war cripples, the Jewish immigrants from the Pale, the criminals, the bathhouse denizens, and the nameless dead who filled the morgues. Warning early on of the dangers posed by the Nazis, Roth evoked a landscape of moral bankruptcy and debauched beauty—a memorable portrait of a city and a time of commingled hope and chaos. What I Saw, like no other existing work, records the violent social and political paroxysms that compromised and ultimately destroyed the precarious democracy that was the Weimar Republic. Personal Review: What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth Although he was not exterminated directly by the Nazis (he died of alcoholism in Paris in 1939 at the age of 44), Joseph Roth surely was yet another of the victims of the insanity and inhumanity that convulsed Europe in the quarter century after WWI. In the 34 newspaper essays collected in this volume, Roth provides a mosaic portrayal of the aimless and bankrupt life (ethically and aesthetically) of Berlin that was the immediate precursor to the Nazi cataclysm. The book has an unusual provenance. Roth began his career as a journalist in Vienna after getting out of the Austrian military at the end of WWI (he was born in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). In 1920 he moved from Vienna to Berlin, which remained his base of operations until 1933, when the Nazis came to power and Roth moved on to Paris. In the years 1920 to 1933, Roth was a widely-read and highlypaid journalist for several German newspapers; his specialty was the feuilleton, a short literary sketch or essay, often light in tone. Of the undoubtedly hundreds he penned during those years, these 34 were selected and published in German in 1996 as a walker's guide to Berlin. Then, in 2003, with the growing recognition in the English-speaking world of Roth's literary stature, they were translated by Michael Hoffman and published in English. I believe the book represents the first appearance in English of Roth's journalism, and while it certainly is a very valuable introduction, one can't help but wonder to what extent it is less than it might have been, both as an introduction to Roth's journalism and as a picture of Weimar Berlin, due to its genesis as a walking guide to 1990s Berlin. Even so, it gives us a remarkable and impressionistic picture of Berlin between WWI and the Nazis -- more instructive and memorable, I suspect, than any history book. Even more lasting is its protrayal of the human flotsam and jetsam that had washed into Berlin in the wake of WWI, including hordes of Eastern European Jews. Although the book as constituted does not dwell on the plight of the Jews, the growing "Jewish question" (for Roth, an extraordinarily complicated subject) pervades the book. Roth was both Jewish and a highly cultured European and one can tell that he senses grave trouble for both his lineages in the near future.
Slide 3: But to me the book is most significant and valuable for its writing. Roth relates his keen social observations with a distinct voice and in an engaging style (oft-times pointillistic), and there are numerous brilliant turns of phrase, paragraphs, and vignettes -- although some of the humor is either out-dated or does not survive translation. I have not read any of Roth's novels, but now I shall make a point of doing so in the near future. The book is short (just over 200 pages) and the writing crisp, so it is no great chore to read the entire work. But for those who want to skim the high points, I commend the excellent Introduction by the translator Michael Hofmann, and the essays "Refugees from the East", "Wailing Wall", "The Unnamed Dead", "Architecture", "The Word at Schwannecke's", "The Twelfth Berlin Six-Day Races", "A Visit to the Rathenau Museum", "An Apolitical Observer Goes to the Reichstag", and the concluding essay (written in Paris in 1933) "The Auto-da-Fe of the Mind". For More 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price: What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933 by Joseph Roth 5 Star Customer Reviews and Lowest Price!

   
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