The Radetzky March (Von Trotta Family #1) by Joseph Roth translated by Michael Hofmann

First published: 1932 1. First lines. 2. Cover: Allen and Unwin 3. Franz Joseph among his troops at Solferino, fought during the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia 4. The Radetzky March cover-sheet for music. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

This is the story of three members of the Trotta family – father – son – grandson, living in the years of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1859, Lieutenant Trotta saves the life of the Emperor, becomes a hero, and is given the title of Baron. He feels uncomfortable in this role, and forbids his son Franz to enter the military. However, the next generation, Carl Joseph, does join the military as a cavalry officer. A series of events lead him to take a post at an isolated garrison town, and he has a very unhappy time there. The story of the descent of the Trotta family parallels the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was dissolved in the aftermath of World War 1.

“His son was dead. His job was over. His world had ended.”

BOOK SNAPS: Originally published in 1932, this book is considered a classic. In its review (1933), the New York Times praised it as “an example of the way a good sociological novel should be written. Great events are present only as they are reflected in the lives of the characters”. Yes, but the wives and mothers in this story don’t have a presence at all, and I think this is a perspective that is missing. (That’s my twenty-first century thinking). I found it to be rather boring for the most part (the New York Times stated that “Nothing much happens throughout the 400 pages of the novel; life just dozes on.” Yes, and I have to agree with The Irish Times: “The Radetzky March is a dark, disturbing novel of eccentric beauty”. It is a very depressing story, but the descriptive writing is superb.

Awards: 2001 Winner of the Maxim Rylsky Prize (Ukraine)


Quotes:


“The good man believed that shortsighted people were also deaf and that their spectacles would become clearer if their ears heard more sharply.”

“If my children disobey me, I just try to keep a modicum of dignity. It’s all you can do.”

“He didn’t like wars (he knew they ended in defeat), but he loved the army, war games, rifle drill, parades, marches past and company exercises.”

“Illness was nothing but an attempt on the part of nature to get people used to the idea of dying.”

“Winter came. When the regiment rode out in the mornings, the world was still in darkness. The ice crusts on the roads splintered under the horse’s hooves. Clouds of grey vapour spilled out of the muzzles of the animals and the mouths of the riders. A dull layer of frost settled on the sheaths of the heavy sabres and the barrels of the light rifles.”


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