Joseph Roth’s "The Radetzky March" traces the history of the Trotta family across three generations. The grandfather, Joseph, saved Emperor Franz Joseph’s life at the Battle of Solferino, an act that helps and haunts the family across the years. The novel parallels and intertwines the connection between sons and fathers in the Trotta family with the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its subjects. In both cases, the head of the family/empire becomes a symbol that proves to be wildly overblown, causing members on both sides of the relationship to struggle with unrealistic expectations.
Roth proves to be a little heavy-handed at times but usually he displays a deft and humorous touch. Roth takes a complex look at causes leading to the disintegration of the empire—while he finds fault with the codes of honor of the older generations, Roth highlights the greater danger from the lack of values in his own generation. Roth’s view of the empire adds to the ambiguity in the novel. Roth recognizes that the empire requires a monarchy with a strong personality in order to unite its disparate nationalities, but that is not the same as endorsing such an arrangement. Such a recognition points to reasons for the dissolution—weakness from above combined with increasing disunity and rot from below. Pressure from outside the empire is certain to destroy it since the empire has been hollowed out, the weakening of a common vision or purpose the catalyst to its collapse.
If you haven't yet read Joseph Roth, its' time to start, and start with The Radezky March, a masterpiece about the disintegration of empires and those who live and die by them.
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