Monday, July 16, 2007

Weights and measures - Joseph Roth

This book, considered by many as a 20th century classic. I wanted to read this for the past 10 years or so. I was unsuccessful until last month, when I accidentally came across this title in a bookshop. I had managed to get hold of his another book The Legend of the Holy Drinker a couple of yeas back.

Anslem Eibenschutz moves to the district of Zlotogrod as an Inspector of Wights and Measures. He had to take this job on the insistence of his wife. As in case of every Army men, civilian life and dress are not making Herr Eibenschutz very happy. He however, goes on with his new job. Typical to an army man, he is truthful to his job and is already a name spoken with fear and contempt by the shopkeepers and merchants. Unlike, his predecessor, he is strict and non corrupt.

While things are fine at the office front, it is not all that good at the family front. Already a trouble marriage, and without a child, Eibenshutz and his wife leads an uninteresting life without love or affection. Soon he realises that his wife is having an affair with his clerk. He manages to get his clerk transferred to another district, but not before her wife is pregnant with the clerks son. Shaken and raged Eibenschutz spends less and less time at home and becomes a frequent at eh border tavern, known for its notorious activities. He became attracted to a Gypsy woman who is the mistress of the landlord Jadlawker. In a sudden turn of event, Eibenschutz gets Jadwalker arrested and put in prison and takes over the running of the tavern by an order.
As he manages to take his new found love for the woman and alcohol cherish, another tragedy hits the districts in the form of Cholera. People after people are falling prey to this and the life in the district is affected by this. He looses his wife and son( of Clerk) to the disease. Though he survived the epidemic, his life also gets to a tragic end.

This book is written in the year of 1937 and he himself drank his way to the grave ( as written in the credits) at a young age of 45. Reading this book under isolation this will not give you a good impression. It looks just like any other 20th century fiction from the first half. As Milan Kundera says in his new book ( the curtain) , no fiction can be understood without having basic knowledge of the author, the period and the geography. From that point of view this book was very interesting to me. Whole book gives us an atmosphere of loss and unhappiness to me and the epidemic adds to already pathetic state of people. The villagers live an uneventful life , the only place of action being the tavern full of escaping people from the Soviet Union, drinking their way to the new freedom, before migrating to far away lands such as Canada , South America.

Here is a short article from Granta by Michael Hoffman on The Rediscovery of Joseph Roth
Wiki details of Joseph Roth

Wights and Measures
Written By : Joseph Roth ( Translated from German by David Le Vay )
Published by : Peter Owen , London
150 Pages
Rs 349.20


Ram said...

nice blog and a good theme (book reviews) to go with that..

thanks for the blogroll.. you should be able to see your tag in my page as well..

Brain Drain said...

Thanks Ram for dropping by and dont see you entertaining us these days..