National Review / Digital
A Vanished Continent
Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters, translated and edited by Michael Hofmann (Norton, 512 pp., $39.95)


The Frankfurter Zeitung laid him off. Former editors and publishers were mostly obliged to flee abroad like him, and Nazis were then appointed to replace them. A number of these refugees started publishing books and magazines wherever they were but they could not afford advances large enough for their authors to live on. A few who had stayed in Germany tried to reach accommodation with the Nazis. Roth would have nothing to do with anyone who did not share his moral absolutes. Generous and impulsive, he would hand out his tiny royalties to as many as eight recipients, for example a hall porter to whom he owed no obligation. “I’ve nothing to eat unless someone asks me out, basically I don’t care,” Roth wrote to a friend. Suddenly he was angry and poor.

One friend also running from the Nazis was Stefan Zweig. Correspondence between them composes at least half of this book, and is an exceptional revelation of personality under the pressure of dreadful events. They were two of a kind, both Habsburg loyalists and both Jews. Zweig’s autobiographical The World of Yesterday has the same sense of regret for the lost beauty of the past as The Radetzky March. Both authors also now urgently needed a survival strategy. Better known abroad and also independently rich, Zweig had greater freedom of action. Within days of Hitler’s assumption of power, Roth was already making sure that Zweig understood what lay ahead: “Our literary and material existence has been wrecked — we are heading for a new war.” He rammed it in: “The barbarians have taken over. Do not deceive yourself. Hell reigns.”

February 20, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 3

  • What the protesters don’t know.
  • A visit with the governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, after her first year in office.
  • Ron Paul’s ignorant cry.
  • The president’s acolytes decide he is a different sort of messiah.
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