The hotel that I love like a fatherland is situated in one of the great port cities of Europe, and the heavy gold Antiqua letters in which its banal name is spelled out shining across the roofs of the gently banked houses are in my eye metal flags, metal bannerets that instead of fluttering shine out their greeting.
In the 1920s and 30s, Joseph Roth travelled extensively in Europe, leading a peripatetic life living in hotels and writing about the towns through which he passed. Incisive, nostalgic, curious and sharply observed - and collected together here for the first time - his pieces paint a picture of a continent racked by change yet clinging to tradition. From the 'compulsive' exercise regime of the Albanian army, the rickety industry of the new oil capital of Galicia, and 'split and scalped' houses of Tirana forced into modernity, to the individual and idiosyncratic characters that Roth encounters in his hotel stays, these tender and quietly dazzling vignettes form a series of literary postcards written from a bygone world, creeping towards world war.
Roth (1894 1939) might be best remembered for novels such as The Radetzky March, but this collection of short newspaper pieces shows that his literary skill extended far beyond the fictional worlds he created. The selections, most written in the 1920s, originate in Roth's work as a correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung and other newspapers. Hofmann, who has translated Roth's work previously (What I Saw), organizes the collection by subject rather than chronology. He groups together sketches concerned with specific countries, such as Albania, Austria, and the U.S.S.R., and assembles others into thematically linked sections on hotels, death, and "pleasures and pains." The opening section, on Germany between the world wars, does not contain the book's strongest material, but does show how Roth focused on portraying the eye-catching details of everyday life. When he turns his gaze onto subjects unfamiliar to modern American readers, such as migr -filled hotels and Albanian president (later king) Ahmed Zogu, Roth's voice is at its most pointed and eloquent. Roth evokes the melancholy of a vanished Europe in this poetic and sharp-eyed collection of journalistic sketches.