The legend of the Holy drinker by Joseph Roth


Image of The Legend Of The Holy Drinker

The legend of the Holy Drinker by Joseph Roth

Austrian fiction

Original title – Die Legende vom heiligen Trinker

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – Library book


I’m so sorry
I know exactly what you mean
Tired of being devilish
Sick of being wicked
Habitual, and untrue
Another starting over
Although it is the ending
I send regards to you
Standing on the steps
Steps of the cathedral
Watch the summer fade
Just trying to get to somewhere
Trying to get just anywhere
And I know it ain’t my day

On the steps of the cathedral by the mighty Mark Lanegan seems match this book his lyrics full of god and drinking source 

Well I had planned to read a few books by Joseph Roth for the week for him this German lit month but as ever time and other books caught up with me so I only got chance to read the shortest one I  got hold of but really enjoyed this Novella .Joseph Roth served on the eastern front in world war one , then became a Journalist on left-wing papers after the war .He was married , but his wife suffered mental illness for most of their marriage so was in a sanatorium .He published his first novel in 1923 , but it wasn’t to the early 1930’s and The books Job and The Radetzky march that he found real fame .Roth himself was a drinker ,this book was his final book .

On a spring evening in 1934 a gentleman of mature years descended one flights of stone steps that lead from the bridges over the Seine down to its banks .It is there that , as all over the world knows and so will hardly need reminding , the homeless poor of paris sleep or rather spend the night

The man who gives Andreas the money , finds him under that bridge

The legend of the holy drinker follows Andreas , a vagrant former coal miner , that because of a number of misfortunes he had become a down and out .But in the book we see this man get a number of pieces of good fortune starting with the mystery meeting with a man who gives him 200 francs .That he promises to ive back  via a statue of Saint Theresa of Liseux to give to a certain priest .The first thing Andreas uses the money for is  to go for a drink with it going straight to the nearest bar , but this leads to  a meeting with former friends , lovers lead him down a path of not giving the money to the right person  , moving in different circles we see the older version of Andreas shine through the man he used to be ,we also find out how he end up on the street after going to prison. Finally then there is a strange younger woman  called Theresa .But is all this long-term can one escape one’s fate ?

He woke up very early in the morning .Caroline was still asleep .A solitary bird was twittered outside the open window .He lay there for a while with open eyes , no more than a couple of minutes .During those minutes he was thinking .It seemed to him that not for long time had so many remarkable things happened to him as now ,in the space of this single week .

Andreas thinks about good fortune , but is it really ?

Now this was his last book , is Andreas in some part Roth I don’t know , he seemed from his bio to be struggling with drink and ,maybe this story of a man nearly redeeming himself was in some part what he wanted .Are we all haunted by our past ? Can we escape our past ? Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes ? These are all questions one is asking one’s self whilst reading this book .Maybe Andreas is a wider figure the lost hope and dreams of many a man , but then given a chance to escape it .Is human nature to be repeat of what we were , can we break the cycle Andreas is maybe Roth trying to discover a way through his human nature but the world around him , this was 1939 Roth was a jew living in Paris maybe this is more a tale of some one looking for redemption .I know I musing on this one but it’s that type of book a fable like feel to his prose and a gentle wit and carefully drawn lead character makes me feel there is a lot more to this one than first appears .I also love the woodcut art that is at the start of each chapter .

have you ever read a book that leaves you with a lot of questions after reading it ?

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Caroline
    Nov 25, 2014 @ 11:50:13

    Wonderful review, Stu. I’m very keen on reading this as well. So many questions, right? I found that in Weights and Measures too. It’s said that this is in part his own story. I would be especially interested to read this because all those I’ve read so far were set in the former Austro Hungarian monarchy.


  2. yodcha
    Nov 25, 2014 @ 13:08:35

    I really liked this novella a lot. Great post. I hope to read the collection of his Paris essays next year.


  3. Seamus Duggan
    Nov 25, 2014 @ 13:10:59

    It’s a long time (thirty years) since I read this but having just read Rebellion I think I may read some more Roth and I still have this. At this distance the details are so hazy it would be like a new book anyway.
    The lead character in Rebellion is also called Andreas.


  4. JacquiWine
    Nov 25, 2014 @ 18:11:19

    I must get around to Roth next year as I feel I’ve missed out by not getting hold of some of his books in time for November. He seems to dig deep into the human condition judging by the questions at the end of your review. Thanks for this review, Stu.


  5. Jonathan
    Nov 25, 2014 @ 20:13:28

    I loved this book as well. I read it last year but I watched the film version, starring Rutger Hauer, years ago. I always find stories with such weak-willed, but well-meaning, characters appealing as it seems very human to fail, especially when trying to do good. A similar story which may be worth checking out is ‘The Stickman’s Laughter’ by Nelson Algren (in Neon Wilderness) – it’s a favourite of mine.


  6. 1streading
    Nov 30, 2014 @ 11:16:35

    I didn’t get round to re-reading any Roth this month unfortunately (I’ve now read all his fiction). This is particularly good, but I do think you’ve hit on something when you suggest he is a writer who leaves you with a lot of questions.
    I appreciate the Mark Lanegan reference, but surely Roth is the Townes van Zandt of writing?


  7. Violet
    Dec 01, 2014 @ 02:20:37

    I read this recently and really liked it, too. I saw it as the wish fulfilment of a dying alcoholic; something he wrote to keep his spirits up as he got closer and closer to death. But, that’s only one way of interpreting the narrative, and as you say, it does leave you with a lot of questions.


  8. Max Cairnduff
    Dec 04, 2014 @ 18:10:54

    Nice Stu. I’ve long wanted to see a review of this, it’s one of his most famous works and one that’s on my radar (though I’ve a Roth I want to reread first and I haven’t yet read Radetzky March). You make a good case for it.


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November 2014


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