Having recently read Joseph Roth's fine short novel, Job (1930), I decided to turn to an even earlier work by him, Rebellion (Die Rebellion), from 1924. It was originally serialized in the German Socialist newspaper "Vorwarts" (Forward), and published in the same year, 1924. This novel along with The Spider's Web and Hotel Savoy make up what is considered Roth's early period.
Rebellion is the story of young Andreas Pum, a veteran of the Great War who lost a leg but gained a medal for his service. He is a simple man who lives with his friend Willi and plays a hurdy-gurdy. He soon marries the recently widowed Fraulein Blumlich, who, in a scene of melodramatic pathos, deftly elicits his request for her hand in marriage. It is a marriage for which they must wait four weeks to avoid appearing improper; a portent of future disappointments for Andreas. His fortunes take a sudden turn for the worse, set off by a chance altercation with a typical bourgeoisie, Herr Arnold. Andreas soon finds himself facing time in jail. His wife reacts to this by leaving him; he loses his license to perform music, and he even loses his friendly mule(sold by his wife). In jail he experiences a quixotic desire to feed the birds outside his window, but the State, to whom he makes a formal request, will not allow this exception to the rules. The prison doctor who examines him tells him that he should not philosophize: "You should have faith, my friend!"
Things change for the better for his friend Willi whose entrepreneurial instincts awaken and lead him out of poverty; but Andreas is doomed for a bad end. In one of its best moments, the story ends with a dream-like sequence where we experience Andreas' last feelings. He is facing the confusion of the after-life and the wonderment expressed: "Andreas began to cry. He didn't know if he was in Heaven or Hell."
The novel suggests a more radical thinker than Roth would become in his great novels, Job and The Radetzky March. Yet, there are signs of the later Roth, and having recently read Job I see suggestions of the musings of Mendel Singer in the thoughts of young Andreas. Both men have seemingly been betrayed by their God and are trying to deal with their life in his apparent absence. In Andreas' case the rebellion has a resonance with the rebellion so finely depicted in Dostoevsky (esp. The Brothers Karamazov - see my previous posts on this great novel). The result for the reader is a short novel that is long on provocative ideas that linger in the mind.
Rebellion by Joseph Roth. Transl. by Michael Hofmann. St. Martin's Press, New York. 1999 (1924)