Available in English for the first time, here is David Vogel’s previously unknown novel that had literary Israel abuzz when it was published in 2012, almost one hundred years after the author started working on it.
David Vogel has long been regarded as a leading figure in modern Hebrew literature, and his work has been compared to that of Joseph Roth, Thomas Mann, and Franz Kafka. Vogel was thought to have written only a single novel: his masterpiece, Married Life, which was published to great acclaim in 1929. Yet he had been working on another novel, which was only discovered recently.
Set in the early 1900s, Viennese Romance tells the story of Michael Rost, an eighteen-year-old Jewish youth who travels to Vienna, hungry for experience. There, he forms passing relationships with everyone who crosses his path — prostitutes, revolutionaries, paupers, army officers, and rich men alike. When a shady businessman takes the penniless Rost under his wing, he rents a room in the home of an affluent bourgeois family. He is seduced by the lady of the house while her husband is away on business, and shortly after begins an affair with her sixteen-year-old daughter as well. This love triangle threatens to destroy the entire family.
With a foreword that explains how this lost novel came to light, Viennese Romance is a seminal work that explores the conflicts faced by many Jewish intellectuals in early twentieth-century Europe. A compelling portrait of a decadent society, it also lays bare the obsessive–destructive nature of love.
‘What a wonderful novel it is. Brave and bold in content, with erotic scenes and a sensational love triangle at its hub, it is written in Vogel's distinctive style, through which he probes his characters' souls and skillfully sculpts their physical attributes. There is Vogel's trademark investigation of the lineaments of passion and, as always, his fear of passion's institutionalization. The author's love of the city's frenetic pace shines through, along with the remnants of spirituality that are crushed amid the gears of the modern machine.’
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‘There is an unmistakable mastery in the hyperaesthetic intensity with which Vogel depicts early 20th-century Vienna’s mix of squalor and sophistication, and in the volatile blend of sensuality and despair that haunts his narrative.’
The Telegraph, UK
‘A treasure trove of fiery temperament — uninflated, direct, and exciting — by a real Hebrew artist.’
‘In some ways, Vogel is like an early Woody Allen … he was introverted, consumed with sexual hang-ups, and lived as a perpetual outsider.’
‘Viennese Romance is a very beautiful novel … Like any truly good literature, Vogel is worth reading over and over.’
‘Speaking through his philosophical young protagonist, Vogel writes knowingly about life’s emotional extremes, from impregnable joy to consuming depression … What really amazes is just how current it feels. Vogel has been compared to Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann, but Viennese Romance also recalls the poetic melancholy and easily punctured gaiety of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote during the same period and whose work still resonates hugely to this day.’
‘[Viennese Romance's] own history is as fascinating as that which it evokes. Written over several decades between Vienna and Paris, it swings between cosmopolitanism and philosophical enquiry … This is the Vienna of Freud, Arthur Schnitzler and Otto Weininger; its fin de siècle sexual consciousness more risqué than other Western cities.’
The Melbourne Review
‘The romance here is in Rost's vision of Vienna, the cultural capital of old-world central Europe … This is that exotic, vanished Austria, the Austria of Freud and Wittgenstein and Emperor Franz Joseph … Viennese Romance offers insight into the world of a central figure in 20th-century Jewish writing, and a crucial pathfinder of a specifically Hebrew literature’
‘[A] marvellous tale … evocative and insightful.’