Rebellion: A Novel

Written by Joseph Roth Michael Hofmann Michael Hofmann (trans.)
Review by Alice Logsdon

Andreas Pum is a war veteran. We meet the recovering amputee after the end of WWI. Rather than being depressed or agonized by his condition, Andreas is upbeat. After all, the government will provide for him. He isn’t just an invalid. He is an invalid with a medal. At first things go as planned. He gets a permit to be an organ grinder, he finds a woman to marry, his life is all that he could want it to be. He is smug, content, and even takes pride in his virtuosity on his instrument. What he doesn’t count on is crossing paths with Herr Arnold.

This is a slim but well constructed novel. Hardly a word goes to waste. The first six chapters deal with Pum’s happy progress. In chapter seven the action suddenly shifts, as if to illustrate how one can coast along, assuming everything is wonderful, when all along, Fate has been hovering, waiting for an opportunity, the perfect vessel through which to make it’s power known. Even this isn’t the ultimate irony, however, for just as quickly as Pum’s star descends, the star of his ne’er-do-well friend, Willi, is on the rise. How can this be? Would a just God let this happen?

Rebellion is well worth reading. It contains page after page of pithy observations on humanity, nature, faith and loss. Unlike other novels with similar themes, it is approachable because it doesn’t rely on a surreal or overly contrived plot development. Andreas Pum could be any one of us, really, and any one of us could be Herr Arnold.