Joseph Roth was born Moses Joseph Roth on September 2, 1894, in Brody, Austrian Galicia, which at that time was in the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and today is in the Ukraine. His parents were part of a large Orthodox Jewish community, not uncommon in that part of the old empire. His father, Nachum Roth, was an unsuccessful traveling businessman who died, the victim of a psychopathic disorder, in 1910. Joseph was raised by his mother, Maria (or Miriam) Roth, née Grübel, and his grandfather Jechiel Grübel, a successful draper and orthodox Jew in Brody. The boy attended the elementary school and the Royal-Imperial Crown Prince Rudolph Gymnasium in Brody, where German was the language of instruction. At home, the family spoke German, but Roth also learned Polish, Yiddish, and Ukrainian. After his graduation with honors in 1913, he attended the University of Lemberg (Lvov) for one semester and the University of Vienna from 1914 to 1916. He studied literature and began his career as a writer, publishing poetry, short stories, and essays in a Viennese newspaper. From 1916 until 1918 he served in the Austrian army.
For a number of years following World War I, Roth was concerned almost exclusively with political and social issues. Although he was essentially a conservative, at this time he embraced the socialist point of view—he even signed some of his newspaper articles “Red Joseph.” He investigated the plight of the outsider, with special interest in the fate of the eastern European Jews, the Ashkenazim. In 1924 he developed this theme in a series of novels. Like most of his fictional work, these novels appeared serially in newspapers. Hotel Savoy appeared in the distinguished Frankfurter Zeitung, and Rebellion was serialized in the Berlin newspaper Vorwärts in 1924. Both novels treat the topic of social injustice that the outsiders and victims of the war encounter in Western European society. Hotel Savoy portrays a microcosm of a society suffering decay and corruption, while Rebellion illustrates the life of a disabled war veteran who loses his organ grinder’s license and is thus another victim of capitalism.
From the mid-1920’s to the late 1920’s Roth...
(The entire section is 924 words.)