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Radetzky March ( [233574]) is a novel by Joseph Roth published in 1932.

Roth continued the story of the Trotta family in his later novel The Emperor's Tomb ( ), published in 1938.

Plot summary

The story of three generations of the Trottas, a family of soldiers and bureaucrats, is set against the backdrop of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy from the height of its power to descent into the war that would lead to its breakup. Roth pioneered in the use of an historical figure (the Emperor Franz Joseph) as a recurring fictional character in the novel. The well-meaning but blundering Emperor nearly gets himself and other soldiers killed at the Battle of Solferinomarker in the late 1850s. Young Lieutenant Trotta knocks the Emperor down in order to save him from sniper fire. When the Emperor decides that Trotta has saved his life, he knights Trotta. Using exquisite irony, Roth shows how this seemingly ennobling event leads to the ruination of the Trottas, paralleling the decline of Austria. Trotta is suddenly regarded by his relatives—including his own father—as above them in class. Even though the newly created Baron Trotta makes no attempt to put on airs, everyone from his old life regards him as different, and he is forced to join a new social class in which he never feels comfortable.

Disgusted when he learns from his son's history text that ridiculous legends have grown up around his rescue of the Emperor (including the misconception that Trotta was in the cavalry rather than the infantry), he tries to persuade the Emperor to change the text to reflect the true facts. However, the Emperor notes that the truth would be rather pedestrian; therefore he expunges the story altogether from the texts. As a result, the next two generations of Trottas always find that older people reverently remember the legend while younger people are unaware of anything special associated with the Trottas. The disillusioned Baron Trotta sets himself against his son's ambition to become a soldier, insisting instead that he join the bureaucracy. Having no idea why his father discouraged his military ambitions, the second Baron Trotta sends his own son to a military academy. The first baron's grandson, his career determined by the legend surrounding his forebear, is encouraged to join the cavalry. His life involves postings to various parts of the empire with a great deal of gambling and drinking as well as a bit of dueling involved because there are no wars to fight. After his involvement in the brutal suppression of a local uprising, however, young Trotta's own disillusionment seems to be sealed.

Roth manages to see humor in the tragedy of the Trottas. The Emperor never learns that his attempts to reward people have backfired; he continues to do to others the same thing he has done to the Trottas. In the end, however, there is no doubt that the conclusion of this story is bitterly tragic.

Allusions/references to other works

The novel title comes from the famous Radetzky March composed in 1848 by Johann Strauss Sr.. The march itself is symbolically featured in many points of the story.

Literary significance & criticism

Radetzky March is the best known novel by Joseph Roth. Noted German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki selected it for his edition of the most important German-language novels, Der Kanon, in 2003.

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