Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Radetzky March

"Back then before the Great War, when the incidents reported on these pages took place, it was not yet a matter of indifference whether a person lived or died. If a life was snuffed out from the host of the living, another life did not instantly replace it and make people forget the deceased. Instead, a gap remained where he had been, and both the near and distant witnesses of his demise fell silent whenever they saw this gap. If a fire devoured a house in a row of houses in a street, the charred site remained empty for a long time. For the bricklayers worked slowly and the leisurely, and when the closest neighbours as well as casual passersby looked at the empty lot, they remembered the shape and the walls of the vanished house. That was how things were back then. Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically."

The above passage sums up the theme of The Radetzky March quite well. The Great War, mentioned in the first sentence of the paragraph, is not just the first world war, but also a metaphor for death and the end itself, the death of the "old world", of order and of European civilization itself. It is beautifully written dark masterpiece. It is almost as if Roth were obsessed with death, death is mentioned on almost every second page of the novel, he sees death everywhere:

"The people in this area were the spawn of the swamps. For the swamps lay incredibly widespread across the entire face of the land, on both sides of the highway, with frogs, fever germs, and treacherous grass that could be a horrible lure into a horrible death for innocent wanderers unfamiliar with the terrain. Many died, and their final cries for help went unheard. But all the people who were born there knew the treachery of swamps and had something of that treachery themselves. In spring and summer, the air was thick with an intense and incessant croaking of frogs. An equally intense trilling of larks exulted under the skies. And a tireless dialogue took place between the sky and the swamp."

I am almost finished with the book. Will add more later when I am done...

6 comments:

adhyayan said...

I like the line "people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly"...

jyothsnay said...

Profound Alok...
I especially like this body..."Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly ..."how true!

could recall a beautiful rendition from Carl Sandburg

“Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work-
I am the grass. I cover al.

And pile them high at Gettyburg
and pile them high…..
………..
what place is this ?
where are we now?
I am the grass
let me work….”

Alok said...

Wow, those are wonderful lines Jyothsna. I had never heard of this poem before. thanks!

Alok said...

copying the whole poem...
http://www.bartleby.com/104/78.html

PILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass. 10
Let me work.

merlot said...

My favorite line:

Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically.

Carl Sandburg wrote a beautiful, classic piece on the life of Abraham Lincoln. Though outdated, his linguistic style is still the best of the lot.

Alok, is this the first book that you read written by him (Roth, I mean)?

Alok said...

Yes merlot, this is only the first book by Joseph Roth that I have read, I think this is his most famous book.