What I Saw: Reports From Berlin 1920-33 by Joseph Roth (Translated by Michael Hofmann) - review by Sebastian Shakespeare

Sebastian Shakespeare

All Human Life Is Here

What I Saw: Reports From Berlin 1920-33

By

Granta Books 227pp £14.99 order from our bookshop
 

In 1929, Joseph Roth wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper for which he worked, declaring his credo as a journalist. 'I don't write "witty columns". I paint the portrait of the age. I'm not a reporter, I'm a journalist; I'm not an editorial writer, I'm a poet.' These may sound like lofty claims for a jobbing hack, but this volume - the first collection of his journalism to appear in English - more than validates them. In fact, he does himself a great disservice: he can be witty, as in his observation of a nude bather ('he would like to watch himself enter the water - only his belly isn't made of glass') or a drunken man ('he lay with his head slumped on the table, as though he were trying to saw through the fake marble with his nose').

Michael Hofmann has translated much of Roth's fiction for Granta, including his masterpiece, The Radetzky March. Now he brings us the non-fiction, which can only be described as sublime. Some critics believe it is superior to the novels, and on the strength of this volume one can see why. What

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