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Rebellion by Joseph Roth

When Andreas Pum returns from World War I, he has lost a leg but gained a medal. Unlike his fellow sufferers, however, Pum maintains his unswerving faith in God, Government, and Authority. He makes his livelihood playing sentimental and patriotic tunes on a barrel-organ. Uncomplaining, stupid, and docile, he marries the (very) recently widowed Katharina shortly after meeting her, and settles down for a winter of ignorant bliss.

Disaster strikes soon after. An argument with another man on a tram leads to blows and, unfortunately for Andreas Pum, the other man is of a higher class, and so Pum loses his license to play the barrel-organ. His wife is, of course, furious and takes up with another man, leaving Andreas to sleep on the sofa.

Things get even worse at his trial. Fed up with being taken for a rebel -- which he most certainly is not -- Pum finds himself in prison after striking an official. In a magical touch that only Joseph Roth can pull off, he ages terribly in a matter of weeks. Upon his release he seeks out his former roommate, a pimp named Willi, who now runs a business cleaning lavatories. Andreas, older and older, feeble-minded, close to death, and obsessed with the injustice he's suffered, goes to work for Willi, and dies an embittered old man.

Moving along at a breakneck clip, Rebellion, the last of Joseph Roth's novels to be translated into English, captures the cynicism and upheavals of a postwar society. Its jazz-like cadences mix with trenchant, albeit fantastic, social commentary to create a wise parable about justice and society.

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