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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

EUROPEAN MARRIAGES Joseph Roth, The Spider's Web and Zipper and his Father, translated from the German by John Hoare (Chatto & Windus) £11.95
Aharon Appelfeld, The Immortal Bartfuss, translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) £10.95

Reading the two 1920s novellas by Joseph Roth is like entering the world of Otto Dix or George Grosz, a brittle Weimar Republic inhabited by war veterans, cigar merchants, flappers, Jews and Communists defined as such with an air of final statement, and "citizens" who gobble "cabbage and pigs' knuckles". For the vividness with which they illustrate the Berlin end of Gatsbydom, complete with the menace of the new storm troopers, The Spider's Web and Zipper and his Father can have few rivals.

In The Spider's Web, Lieutenant Theodor Lohse needs a purpose in life after the First World War. He works as an agent provocateur; he murders; he drinks cocktails; he heads a pack of thugs who break up a strike by shooting down the workers; he revels in the violent clashes of rival organizations. Prompted by Lenz, his equal in cynicism and brutality, he marries the emblematically-named Elsa von Schlieffen: "This was the true European marriage, of a man who had killed senselessly, worked without purpose and who would now beget sons who in their turn would become murderers, killers, Europeans, bloodthirsty and cowardly, warlike and nationalistic, bloody but church-going [...]" Lohse makes it to the higher echelons, working for "the political aims of the Fatherland", hating "the enemy within, Jews, pacifists, plebs". And Lenz, himself a Jew, one of Roth's Jews who perversely promote the cause that can destroy them, ends by urging his brother Lazarus to leave the country. His brother does so: ...


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