Tuesday, 30 April 2013


"Sometimes I look at my children when they are asleep. Their faces seem utterly strange then, hardly recognisable, and I see that they are strange people from a time that is yet to come and that I will not experience... Sometimes it seems that it's the cruelty of their time, of the future, that overcomes the children in their sleep. I don't want to experience that time!"

"Yes, yes!" said the captain.

(Joseph Roth, Radetzkymarsch, 1932) 

A friend once told me about a (French? German? Polish?) writer who translated a page of prose a day as a way of keeping his literary muscles in shape. I'm not going to be that ambitious, but I'll occasionally be translating short passages and bits of dialogue from books that strike me as worth sharing.

I'm nearing the end of Radetzkymarsch; the more chapters I read, the slower the progress, probably because I suspect it's going to end badly and I can't bear it. It's the faces of the dead emerging behind a ghostly roulette table in the middle of the book. Whichever way I look at that particular symbol, it just doesn't bode well.

And yet there is surely a chance Carl Joseph will get out of his alcoholic, 90-proof hole, make up with his father and find happiness in a friendly and worthwhile profession such as, say, book-binding.
Isn't there? There must be.

Also: how was Joseph Roth able to write the above passage in 1932?

PS - here's the final passage of the chapter I just finished. You might understand why I'm terrified of reading on, and at the same time desperate to know what's next:

He did not know, old Mr von Trotta, that fate was spinning bitter sorrows for him as he slept. He was old and tired, and death was already waiting for him, but life did not let him go. Like a cruel host it kept him at the table, because he had not yet tasted all the bitterness that had been prepared for him."


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