This is a milestone for me. I read Joseph Roth’s famous novel The Emperor’s Tomb in one day: it’s my mother’s favorite, it’s a classic and it’s history. Here are my thoughts!
On the brink of war in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the novel tells the story of a young man in the von Trotta family, who still has faith in his beloved but decaying empire. World War I is destroying his once glorious family and the way of life of the upper class in Vienna. This tragic story of Franz Ferdinand von Trotta during and after World War I not only provides a decent look into history, but also displays the troubles of a once carefree man who discovers that not all countries and societies last forever.
Genre: Historical Fiction / Classics
Publication Date: 1938
Rating: 4/5 stars
I was quite hesitant at first because this was a huge step for me – I had heard of Joseph Roth, the most famous Austrian novelist of the last century, plenty of times as my mother adores his work and I had also read a few chapters of his works and watched the movie adaption to his famous piece Radetzky March. But I never really considered reading his books because of my age and hence, my incomprehension of his so well-known work – in other words, I was scared that I wouldn’t value his work.
The plot was quite different than anticipated. Basically, it was the story of this young, carefree man whose family was well-known and renowned, part of Vienna’s upperclass before 1914. The book showed his way of life, his friends and their opinions and true believes of the Dual-Monarchy. It was aspiring to get such a close visual representation of the upper class and a love for a country and Emperor which is nothing like today’s mentality.
The book’s course changed immensely when World War I started – his mentality changed, he lost everything: his family, their status and his country. The change of mentality in society was again another aspect that’s worth reading the book for. But besides being a powerful and moving look at a decaying society, the book also focused on his inner struggles of personality and the way to deal with a mother and a girl he likes.
The writing was incredible. Joseph Roth knows how to create gripping chapters and managed to even make not so interesting paragraphs to be well written and styled. The style surely is a representation of that time, but together with Joseph Roth’s own mentality and living, it displays a society and way of life no writer today could fathom to create.
The characters, to be fair, were a little difficult to understand at first. You have to really read the book and understand the mentality of the society before World War I to comprehend a lot of plot lines, which was tricky at first but then got easier and easier.
Some facts, of course, do not make sense in today’s society and politics and the mentality of a lot of characters are hard to agree with and also difficult to see why they thought in that certain way. But again, it’s a historical fiction, so displaying a society is the main function.
What I disliked was the fact that this story was quite pointless – told was part of the life of Franz Ferdinand von Trotta and his change in personality and the world’s change in believes and mentality caused by war. But there never really was a point where I thought this is the main point or this exactly is what the author wants to tell us – it was just there.
Recommendable: only if interested in the change of society
To conclude, yes, this novel obviously is a renowned book and it deserves to be. It perfectly displays the change of the world after the terrible war and gives the reader insight into a time we can hardly understand today. But I would only recommend it if you are a) interested in sociology b) interested especially in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or c) in the happenings of World War I and how it changed the world.