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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Viennese Romance

David Vogel

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To purchase Viennese Romance

Title: Viennese Romance
Author: David Vogel
Genre: Novel
Written: (ca. 1930s) (Eng. 2013)
Length: 336 pages
Original in: Hebrew
Availability: Viennese Romance - US
Viennese Romance - UK
Viennese Romance - Canada
Viennese Romance - India
Romance viennoise - France
Eine Wiener Romanze - Deutschland
Romanzo viennese - Italia
Una novela vienesa - España
  • Hebrew title: רומן וינאי
  • First published posthumously, in 2012
  • Translated by Dalya Bilu
  • With a Foreword by Lilach Nethanel
  • Edited and with a Note of the Text by Youval Shimoni and Lilach Nethanel

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Our Assessment:

B+ : incompleteness ultimately shows, but otherwise impresses

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 3/8/2013 Andrew Fuhrmann
FAZ . 25/10/2013 Hubert Spiegel
Le Monde . 20/11/2014 Nicolas Weill
The Telegraph . 23/9/2013 Jane Shilling
TLS A 19/2/2014 David Collard
Die Zeit . 19/9/2013 Joachim Riedl

  From the Reviews:
  • "Vogel's populous streetscapes are delicately done, full of colour and detail, but there's something fundamentally vagrant about his protagonist. (...) Through his careful prose, punctuated with archaisms, Vogel implies a potent critique of Europe's apocalyptic trajectory." - Andrew Fuhrmann, The Australian

  • "(E)ine delikate Dreiecksgeschichte, die Jahrzehnte vor dem Erscheinen von Lolita die Grundkonstellation von Nabokovs Welterfolg vorwegnimmt, und ein ungemein lebendiges Wiener Sittenbild aus den Jahren kurz vor Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkriegs: Scharfkantige Facetten folgen auf poetische Stadtbeschreibungen, die Kneipendialoge klingen wie Vorspiele zu den Schlägereien, die stets in der Luft liegen, geflirtet wird mit jener Mischung aus schmierigem Charme und nackter Brutalität, wie sie später Ödön von Horváths Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald prägen wird." - Hubert Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Par son style haché de narration, son univers déjanté et ses personnages d'arrivistes, Romance viennoise n'est pas sans rappeler la littérature populaire pratiquée en France à la même époque, notamment l'Emmanuel Bove d' Aftalion, Alexandre ou l'Irène Némirovsky de David Golder. (...) Vogel devient le poète de cette crue de sexualité, emportant tout l'ancien univers sur son passage. Ce vitalisme charnel parvient à donner vie à des caractères dont la peinture, sinon, manquerait de souplesse et avec lesquels l'empathie serait difficile." - Nicolas Weill, Le Monde

  • "Nethanelís assiduous editing cannot disguise the fact that the novel remains unfinished and structurally flawed, but Dalya Biluís elegant translation admirably conveys the delicacy of Vogelís prose. There is an unmistakable mastery in the hyperaesthetic intensity with which Vogel depicts early 20th-century Viennaís mix of squalor and sophistication, and in the volatile blend of sensuality and despair that haunts his narrative." - Jane Shilling, The Telegraph

  • "Set in 1920s Vienna, the novel is a rich and satisfying blend of sex, psychology, syphilis and Sachertorte -- a period piece that captures the cityís decadence after the Great War. (...) This is a marvellous discovery -- not just a brilliant modernist novel by a clear, fresh and unfamiliar voice but also, as Nethanel persuasively argues, a seminal exploration of the challenges negotiated by Jewish intellectuals before the creation of the State of Israel." - David Collard, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Es geht geschäftig zu, es ist laut, und es herrscht hohe Geschwindigkeit in diesem Kaleidoskop einer untergehenden Epoche. Anders als in seinem erst Jahre später in Paris entstandenen großen Wien-Roman ist dieser Metropolenroman ein Rohdiamant, geschrieben aus der staunenden Perspektive eines Beobachters, der bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt nur die mittelalterliche Rückständigkeit der ostjüdischen Schtetl-Welt kannte." - Joachim Riedl, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Prologue and Epilogue of Viennese Romance are set in Paris between the World Wars. Here readers are introduced to Michael Rost and what has become of him, but the bulk of the novel is set twenty years earlier, in fin de siècle Vienna and describes Rost's early adventures there. Presumed to be a foreigner here in Paris someone guesses he is German; Rost suggests: "Let's say an Austrian", and he is indeed a product of the motley Austro-Hungarian empire, and especially its Viennese apotheosis.
       Rost came from the backlands, leaving behind his family. Apparently, his destination originally was Palestine but, finding himself in Vienna:

He found the city where he had landed no worse than others, and in fact there was no reason for him to continue his journey.
       Just eighteen, he decides to settle down in Vienna. Rost is a(n improbably) mature and self-assured protagonist, his cockiness that of someone at least a few years older, but little is made of his age (or youth) and it is easy (and hardly an issue) to forget that he is supposedly still a teen.
       He doesn't have much of a plan, but he's certain he'll be able to get by -- if on nothing else than: "Personality. I'm confident of myself". Indeed, Rost is all carefree youthful exuberance -- even as he is neither a naïf nor a cynic. It's not just occasionally that:
Full of a sense of freedom and self-confidence, he felt as if he could conquer the world, attain whatever his heart desired. He regarded the carriages, the automobiles, the people passing with magnanimity. How good it was that all this existed, free for the taking; existed for him, for his benefit, for his enjoyment.
       Vogel makes it easy on himself and Rost by having Rost catch the eye of a self-made man, Peter Dean. Dean sees a lot of potential in Rost, and likes his attitude -- "as far as the conventions of society are concerned, I can do without them", Rost claims -- and, no strings attached, hands over ten thousand kronen to the youngster -- "as your allowance for a year". Assuring Rost has no financial concerns -- in a world and time where the struggle to make or get any money is something he constantly encounters -- makes life a lot easier; indeed, Rost can (and does) then take it quite easy.
       Dean is unfortunately a very underdeveloped character -- rich backstory, practically no present story -- and doesn't figure much in the novel beyond this act of great generosity. It is the most implausible part of the novel, but it allows Vogel to leave his protagonist free of what otherwise would be crippling money-worries.
       Vogel rents a room in the house of the well-to-do Shtift family, and almost immediately begins an affair with the woman of the house, Gertrude. From early on he finds the sixteen-year-old daughter Erna more intriguing, however, and Erna -- curious and blossoming into womanhood -- is drawn to him too.
       Rost also constantly returns to Stock's kosher eatery -- "a combination of bar, restaurant, inn, and café" -- and the crowd there. It is one of several overlapping circles of the society of that time Vogel presents -- and Vogel is particularly good in these scenes of interaction and conversation. Whether the interaction among the clientele at Sock's or a teen soirée Erna attends, Vogel is very good at presenting the dynamics at play.
       Sex and money also constantly crop up -- often together, as many of the woman who appear provide their services for money. Rost's romances are hard to see as such: here as elsewhere he still seems to be feeling his way, exploring the possibilities but maintaining an emotional distance. Even as Gertrude clings desperately to him, he barely seems involved. His affair with Erna is seductive, and leads even him to think: "this is the point of everything. This is what makes it all worthwhile -- but it too is inconclusive.
       Viennese Romance is a posthumous publication, the manuscript unearthed more than half a century after his death. It has been edited into its current shape -- the cleaving of the Paris-framing-scene of two decades later into Prologue and Epilogue the most obvious structural interference by the editors -- and it shows its lack of finish (as opposed to mere lack of polish -- which is far less of an issue here). Parts of the novel -- such as Dean's involvement -- are unresolved and would have been surely been dealt with had Vogel had the opportunity to complete the novel. What is now the framing device of Prologue and Epilogue might well have also been integrated differently; as is, it also feels like one of the less complete parts of the novel.
       Despite the fact that this is clearly not the final novel Vogel intended, Viennese Romance is a good and often fascinating read. Its depiction of fin de siècle Vienna, in particular, is a rich and revealing one, easily (and quite convincingly) moving across class and social lines. While Vogel's Otto Weininger-influenced depiction of women is rather too limited, with far too many prostituting themselves, his individual depictions can be remarkably insightful and there are several strong minor characters here. His depiction of Erna's coming of age, and especially her curiosity and uncertainty about it, is also very well done.
       Most of the flaws of the novel can readily be ascribed to its being unfinished (by Vogel's hand) and to the limited alternatives his modern-day editors were left with. What's left is nevertheless some very impressive writing and a work that, while incomplete in a number of respects, is nevertheless a very satisfying read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 August 2015

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Viennese Romance: Reviews: David Vogel:
  • David Vogel at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
Other books by David Vogel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Born in 1891 in what is now Russia, Hebrew-writing David Vogel (דוד פוגל) lived in Austria, Palestine, and Paris, and died in Auschwitz in 1944.

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