book cover of The Wandering Jews

The Wandering Jews

A non fiction book by

As a journalist, Joseph Roth's greatest strength, and perhaps his greatest weakness, was his self-professed love for his subjects. Roth, who is best known for his novels (particularly The Radetzky March), was the star journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung in the early 1920s, when he began writing stories that led to The Wandering Jews. This book, newly translated by Michael Hofmann, is a masterpiece of literary journalism whose political prescience (regarding tensions between Eastern and Western Jews and the too-easy consolations of assimilation) is grounded in eclectic character studies (of, for instance, Parisian elites, a carnival performer from Radziwillow, a dock worker in Odessa). In an age of idea-driven journalism, when stories are often tailored to prove a writer's pre-existing thesis, Roth's lovingly inductive reasoning is refreshing. And his aphoristic insights are as spontaneous as they are circumspect. ("When a catastrophe occurs, people on hand are shocked into helpfulness.") The statement that best summarizes Roth's belief about the unalterable fate of the Jews also epitomizes the polished spontaneity of his style: Roth writes that wandering is "a tribulation that is appropriate to all Jews, and to all others besides. Lest we forget that nothing in this world endures, not even a home; and that our life is short, shorter even than the life of the elephant, the crocodile, and the crow. Even the parrots outlive us." --Michael Joseph Gross

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