‘Job’ by Joseph Roth – Another Job

 

‘Job’ by Joseph Roth    (1930)  –  238 pages                             Translated from the German by Dorothy Thompson

 

I guess I won’t be giving away the plot of ‘Job’ by Joseph Roth by saying it is about a Jewish man who is beset by terrible misfortunes. In the novel that man’s name is Mendel Singer. He and his wife Deborah and their children live in the city of Zuchnow in Ukraine during the years before World War I. Deborah and Mendel have four children, Jonas, Shemariah, Miriam, and Menuchin.

Strong and slow as a bear was the oldest, Jonas; sly and nimble was the son Shemariah; thoughtless and coquettish as a gazelle, the sister Miriam.”

The youngest Menuchin is deformed, can hardly walk and can only say the one word, “Mama”.

Barely earning a living for himself and his family, Mendel “instructed twelve six year-old scholars in the reading and memorizing of the Bible”. The family grows most of their own food in their garden. One gets a good picture of what life was like for the Jews in eastern Europe in the latter days of the 19th century. The Jewish people face daily humiliations by the other peasants.

For a thousand years, nothing good has ever come of it when a peasant asked a question and a Jew replied.”

The story is not politically correct and thus more vivid. This is life with all its faults and wrong turns and all. It is not at all unrelieved misery as one might assume a novel called ‘Job’ might be.

As Mendel is walking near a wheat field on his way home, he espies his daughter Miriam flirting with a Cossack (a Christian) and hiding among the wheat stalks. Miriam “is going with a Cossack”. This causes a sudden change of plans.

We will go to America. Menuchin must remain behind. We must take Miriam with us. Misfortune hangs over us if we stay.”

After they arrive in New York City, things go very well indeed for Mendel Singer. His son Shemariah (now called Sam) is already there in New York, became good friends with a Christian named Mac, and accumulated enough money to send for Mendel and the rest of the family. However the little one Menuchin, must stay behind since he is retarded and deformed.

Everyone wished Mendel luck. Some looked at him doubtfully; some envied him. But all said that America was a wonderful country. A Jew could wish for nothing better than to get to America.”

For a number of years everything goes very well for the family.

Russia is a sad country. America is a free country, a happy country, a gay country. Mendel would no longer be a teacher. A father with a rich son, that’s what he would be.”

Then World Wars I begins, and Mendel’s family is besieged by misfortunes.

Some readers may be turned off by the title ‘Job’. However it is not a depressing read at all, and the novel has an incredible upbeat ending. I found ‘Job’ to be a very lively and vivid read.

Roth’s advice appears to be, that if one is besieged by misfortunes, they should still hang in there and keep plugging away, some really good things might just happen yet.

However this novel was written in 1930, a few years before the Holocaust.

 

Grade:    A

 

 

 

5 responses to this post.

  1. I can’t help thinking of those news stories we’ve seen about orphanages for disabled children in northern Europe. Those countries just don’t seem to have changed their attitudes at all, it’s just dreadful.

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Is Australia more enlightened?

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      • Well, I would say we have more to do. But the deinstitutionalisation of disabled children and adults is well-advanced, and we have the National Disability Insurance Scheme which provides funding for in-home support or independent living. It’s not without its flaws, there’s never enough money and there’s a shortage of people who want to do the support work (probably because it’s underpaid), but it’s a long way from parents placing their disabled kids into so-called homes because they can’t cope with looking after them. I’m hoping that they will fix this problem with a taxpayer NDIS levy, like our current Medicare levy which is dedicated money so governments can’t use it for anything else. I wouldn’t have minded paying an extra 1.5% tax for the NDIS and I’m most other reasonable people wouldn’t either.

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        • Apparently Australia is one of the few countries that is still dealing with these issues in a sane fashion.

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          • Well, maybe. I can’t speak for other states, of course, and I’m really only going on what I know from the media and my own experience with disabled people in schools and in the community. I’m sure people who are directly involved would be more critical. Still, we have three group houses for supported living near us and their residents are often out and about and up for a chat when I’m walking the dog, and there are also some neighbours who are physically disabled but living independently, and I know for sure that in my younger days all of them would have been locked up in an institution.

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