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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"The Legend of the Holy Drinker", an alcoholic tale

The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Die Legende von Heiligen Trinker, German original title) - Josep Roth

My introduction into Joseph Roth's literature, and most probably won't be the last. Published in 1939, the year the author died, this curious tale is a remarkable demonstration of style, with a simplicity and directness that I really enjoyed. Vocabulary and mannerisms in the way the people talks are present, but there's no bombast or rhetorical excesses, and the story flows in a surprising and quite engaging dynamism.

For what I have read, the story of "The Legend" has quite a few resemblances with Roth's real life. Andreas, the "drinker" is an alcoholic wandering through Paris, something that Roth did until he died. But the novella (that was turned into a film in 1988) quickly escapes from the biographical/realistic territory to become something pretty special. I couldn't say I enjoyed the development of the story, but certainly I have been deeply intrigued by its evolution.

There's something about this clochard (vagrant), Andreas, that transpires melancholia, but thanks to uniqueness of the story there's no occasion to get yourself carried away with condescending feelings. The miraculous side of the novella doesn't sound religious at all to me, but instead more of how good fortune, as it were a kind of a special character in the book, shows what could have been of Andreas and how impossible it is to be different, how hard is to confront the possibility of change to him. But instead of condemnation of his attitude or his alcoholic dependence, there's, at some point, a sort of celebration of alcoholism. In the sense of realising is Andreas' way to reach a different level of knowledge... No, not knowledge, a different sort of existence. 

Though strange and not completely satisfactory (a small sense of repetition in the acts of the story) this one goes to that sort of books that leaves you something. Something mysterious, hard to define, but definitely appealing. 

SCORE: 6/10 

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