The salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

The Salt of the Earth by Jozef Wittlin

Polish Fiction

Original title – Sól ziem

Translator – Patrick John Corness

Source – review copy

Some publisher do a great job at rediscovering old works that have fallen out of print or haven’t been translated into English or maybe were due a new translation the latter is the case for this book they brought out another book from Wittlin which was a success so they got a new translation of this book. Which first came out in English in 1941 and had been out of print for a long time. Jozef Wittlin had an interesting life join the Polish army then initially when they were combined into the Austrian army. He then studied in Vienna and joined with Joseph Roth his friend. He got scarlet fever and end up a prisoner of war working on a translation of the Odyssey. He after the war traveled Europe and promoted Pacifism and then s[ent time in France collecting his materials together to write the Salt of the earth which has the tale of an ordinary man caught up in the madness of World war One.

Piotr’s entire life involved carrying things. As a child he had suffered from that infamous Hutsul affliction for which the human face had the French to thank, apparently. Its symptons were typicalnose and certain defects of vision, which however, did not devolp further with age, Independently of the french Influences, Pitor body was also subject toEnglish ones, the rickets. And so France and England, those two warring elements that had done battle in the historical arena over man centuries, settled their differences in the body of a Hutsul child, To the end of his life Piotr remained bandy-legged.

PIotr is described here as a sort of uncanilly youth.

The novel begins high up in the war as the war begins and Franz Josef signs the papers to start the war. This is in contrast to the book itself which is based around one man’s experience of the war. That man Piotr Niewiadomski is what one would call a peasant he is an illegitimate child and has grown up as a rather Gangly uncannily youth. He dreams of a simple life working on the railways he is a porter but sees the chance to become a linesman. But he is now faced with the chance of being thrust into the war. He ends up as an Infantryman. He has t I wait until he leaves and as they are all due to leave there is a Solar eclipse leading to the feeling of the end of the world, but he is still on rails as he catches the train to Hungary this is where the story shows the madness of war when Piotr is caught up and gets on the wrong side of the sergeant this shows the madness of rank and war as they draw closer to the frontline and battles. It shows a simple man caught in the wheels of a war machine!

Pitor duties were exceptionally onerous in those days,but he managed. He had acquired a fondness for the railway – thatis, for the section entrusted to him. Every day, he walked the four kilometers to signal box 87, beyond which his responsbilties ended. He left his post only when Magda visited. She stood in for him competently, just like a legitimate signalman’s wife. The sight of young girl standing at her post with the little red flag had already on several occasions brought smiles to the weary faces of those returning from death. As if life itselfhad placed her on watch.

The rail is all he dreams about at the sart of the book.

This was meant to be [art of a trilogy of novels he had planned to write but he had the case with the other two works taken and lost at a later date which only a small fragment remain which is at the end of the book. It shows how hard it was for a simple man like Piotr to avoid getting caught up in the madness of the war he is like a polish baldrick maybe a bit cleverer than but a man that has a lover and a simple dream of being a linesman that because of the action in the first chapter. He gets sent to join the army and caught up in the madness of the war machine this is very like The way Blackadder describes his superiors they pay little head for the man on the ground at the front in that trench facing death. Whether today tomorrow but always there rather than planning and not taking part. This follows his own view of the War and his Pacifist point of view. It a shame we never knew more of the trilogy but it sits next to the great books of world war one as for me I have not read a book that captures the build-up to war so well and tension and horror of what was to come so well. Sasson in Fox hunting man captures the upper-class view somewhat but this is the lower ranks view. Another great discovery from Pushkin.

The Confusions of young Törless by Robert Musil

the confusions of young Törless

The Confusions of young Törless by Robert Musil

Austrian fiction

Translator Mike Mitchell

Orginal title – Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß

Source – review copy

I have read Musil many years ago I was lucky to buy cheap copies of his huge epic the man without qualities .So had this one on my list of books to try especially as this year sees it’s a hundred year since the start of world war one .Robert Musil  is an Austrian writer ,he went to military school from 12- 17 ,after that went to study engineering then drifted into studying Philosophy and through that decide to write The confusion of young  Törless was his Debut novel .He did serve in the first world war and went on after the war to write his epic The man without qualities .

The closely woven veil of Frau Törless – the lady of around forty – concealed sad eyes , slightly reddened from crying .For now she had to say goodbye  .And it was hard for her to have to abandon her only child for so long to strangers ,unable to watch over her darling and protect him herself .

We see young Törless leaving effect on his mother .

Törless is a young boy when the book opens we see him with his parents waiting for the train to take him to Military school .We see him at first upset ,but then settle in and make friends at the school .But him and his two friends Beineberg and Reiting see a fellow cadet Basini steal from them ,they then decide to judge this boy themselves and descend into a a violent retribution on him .Basini is in love with Törless thou .Törless feels sorry for him in the end and tells him to own up to what he had done .Elsewhere we see Törless have a sexual awakening with a local women ( well lady of the night ) ,also his parents and how they have affect his view of the world from their own view of the world .

Beineberg continued his line of thought ” I think that for the moment we’ll keep him to ourselves – and punish him ourselves .For he has to be punished , for his arrogance if for nothing else .At most the school authorities would expel him and write a long letter to his uncle

The moment the boys take the law into their own hands .

Well this is a new translation pof the book from Oxford world classics and I can see why they have chosen now to do it the book was written in 1906 . But the events attitudes and views seen in the book can actually explain the events of the next forty years in both Austria and Germany .In fact the attitudes at times remind me of some of the fall out that had surround the Dreyfus affair ,which had been a scandal all over Europe when it happened in 1894 and was strangely finally sorted in 1906 around the time Musil had finished this book ,like that true life affair it showed a dark underbelly in certain people and certain classes of people at the time and that is Fascism  and racism .The views and attitudes shown in the book show why Austria and Germany descend into first into world war One the feeling of over bearing superiority  ,then as a knock on effect will lead to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis .A wonderful time to reissue this book. The book embodies part of what Golding showed in the Lord of the Flies how easily young men can divide and sub divided and make many violent acts  .Musil denied that the book was autobiographical mainly due to the heavy sexual content in it ,but one wonders how much else was from  what he saw and experienced at the time ?

Have you a favourite read that shows the build up to World war One ?

June 2021


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