The Radetzky March Readalong – Part 3


SPOILER WARNING – The answers and questions give away important plot points

There seems to be only one true and honest relationship in this novel—the friendship between district administrator  von Trotta and doctor Skowronnek. Would you agree? What did you think of their relationship?

Until the moment when von Trotta and Skowronnek meet, the coldness of most of the relationships is quite disturbing. The way von Trotta treated his son is one of the examples that struck me. There was no warmth, no real interest, no understanding or empathy. That changes when von Trotta meets Skowronnek. It’s an almost magical encounter and I wasn’t surprised to see Roth compare it to love at first sight in calling it friendship at first sight. For the first time in his life, von Trotta changes and opens up and, also for the first time, begins to show some feelings towards his son. Skowronnek is a true catalyst.

Do you think the novel would have taken another turn, had Carl Joseph opened his father’s letter?

I’d like to think so but it’s not impossible that it wouldn’t because Carl Joseph, at that particular time, was beyond the point of no-return. Things had to get worse before they could get better, as is often the case with alcoholics or gamblers.

What is the significance of the regimental party at Chojnicki’s country house?

It was my favourite chapter by far. It contains everything that’s great about this book – the irony, the absurdity, the evocative descriptions of the weather, that underlines the looming catastrophe. The party shows what the life for the upper classes was all about at the time. And knowing this will be the last time that they will celebrate in this way, is eerie. The last moment of glory of a dying world.

Chapter 21 takes us to the Eastern front.  What do you think about the way Roth depicts the conflict? How do you feel about the manner of Carl Joseph’s death?

In many ways, what Carl Joseph did was more heroic than what his grandfather did. His grandfather didn’t even get the time to think about what he was doing, while Carl Joseph was fully conscious of the risk. Of course, he was also tired of living and the consequences may not have been important for him. And, yes, he didn’t save a life but he was willing to help others.

What struck me the most in this chapter, is that we get a feeling for how vast the empire was. How many people were part of it.

I did add this map before, but I think it’s well worth adding it again here.

Did you find the ending satisfying?

Absolutely. I didn’t expect it to end with Skowronnek and found that very hopeful. He’s the only truly likable character because he has warmth and empathy and doesn’t care about conventions. He’s also capable of true friendship. To end with him, showing us how he moves on, is both hopeful and sad. I’d like to think of him as a man of a new era. A bit like Chojnicki but without being jaded or spoilt through incredible wealth. His relationship to money is very telling too. He doesn’t give because he has too much like Chojnicki but because he wants to help a friend.

The Radetzky March has been described as a nostalgic novel for a lost empire.  Is nostalgic the adjective you’d use?

I didn’t find it nostalgic. The only slightly nostalgic chapter was the party at Chojnicki’s but it’s too full of irony to be truly nostalgic. Possibly the only nostalgic element was the epilogue, in which we see Skowronnek playing chess on his own.

What struck you the most in this novel, what do you like or dislike the most?

I’ve read it before, ages ago, and the one thing I didn’t remember and that struck the most now, was how male-dominated it was. And the way women are portrayed. They are all either dead/dying or unfaithful, sometimes both. If he’d wanted to include more female characters, I think, he would have had to write a much longer novel. All the other novels about the end of an era that come to mind, are larger canvases that include more female characters.

Would you reread The Radetzky March?

Given the state of my piles, I don’t think so but it’s not entirely impossible. It’s such a complex book that would deserve to be reread.


I’d like to thank everyone who participated. Lizzy and I truly appreciate it. Thank you all for your enthusiasm and your insighful comments and posts. I’ll try to visit those I’ve missed.

12 thoughts on “The Radetzky March Readalong – Part 3

  1. As I have said before, it sounds like a really good book. Even though I like unlikable characters, it is good to have at least one likable character and good relationship in such a book.

    The reading question is interesting, I struggle with this too, there is so little time to reread books but it is a worthy endeavor.

    • Without Skowronnek the book would have been utterly bleak.
      I’ve never been much of a rereader even though,the few times I did, I got a lot more out of the books. But time . . . And too many unread books on my piles.

  2. Caroline,
    Thank you so very much for the beautiful, clear, helpful MAP! I find historic maps are so helpful. I remember reading that Joseph Roth was from Galicia, and that the part of Galicia he was from is now Ukraine. So interesting that some is also Poland. I am saving this map for sure!
    I may be back at a later time or day to comment on something other than graphics!

    • I used this map for our last Roth readalong of The Emperor‘s Tomb and just remembered it. I think it’s excellent and tells us a lot. I’m glad you like it.
      Im looking forward to reading your final thoughts on the book.

  3. It sounds like a very rich and worthwhile book in many respects -I think that comes through from the nature of the questions you’ve posed in these very thoughtful posts.

    Interesting to see your comments on how women are portrayed in the novel. I’m not particularly surprised to learn that it’s a male-dominated story given the context, but maybe there would have been scope for a more sympathetic approach to the female characters included within the narrative?

    • Thank you for the kind words. It is rich and I’m sure you’d like it.
      You’re absolutely right about the women. It’s one thing not to include too many or make them main characters but they are all difficult. We can assume they are victims of the circumstances but it’s not shown.

  4. “There seems to be only one true and honest relationship in this novel—the friendship between district administrator von Trotta and doctor Skowronnek. Would you agree? What did you think of their relationship?”

    I disagree – I think the relationship between Carl Joseph and Dr Demant seems like a true one: certainly Carl Joseph’s only friend in the military. I’d also suggest his relationship with Frau Slama, although almost entirely carnal, is a true one as well: how tantalising that we never discover what is in those letters. You could also make an argument for the relationship of Jacques and three generations of Von Trottas.

    “What is the significance of the regimental party at Chojnicki’s country house?”

    I think the obvious idea that it’s literally the last waltz, the final hurrah of that way of life. The storm is a rather clichéd trope here, but it’s appropriate: the coming tempest will sweep this lifestyle away.

    “What do you think about the way Roth depicts the conflict? How do you feel about the manner of Carl Joseph’s death?”

    There’s certainly a very palpable sense of the futility of the conflict, which is exemplified in the manner of Carl Joseph’s death: he dies, essentially, for a bucket of water.

    “Did you find the ending satisfying?”
    Yes. District Commisssioner Von Trotta’s death, echoing that of Jacques, and almost coinciding with the emperor’s, suggests the “civilian” end of empire along with the military defeat. But life goes on, and Skowronnek adapts to the new circumstances. Also, Roth’s readers will have known exactly what happens next in terms of historical developments.

    “The Radetzky March has been described as a nostalgic novel for a lost empire. Is nostalgic the adjective you’d use?”

    Absolutely not. In particular, when you think of the way Roth shows the peasants, or people such as Onufri being treated so condescendingly by the middle and upper classes, there is a definite sense of the empire’s rotten core being exposed.

    “What struck you the most in this novel, what do you like or dislike the most?”
    I think the failure of Carl Joseph to fulfil his dreams, and what that says about a stifling, protocol-driven society in which appearances are everything, and scandal can attach to the slightest thing.

    • I’m sorry I’m so late answering your insightful comment.
      I really enjoyed reading it. Your take on some of the questions is quite different and makes me see the book from another angle.
      I did forget about Carl Joseph’s and Demant’s relationship. It certainly is a deep friendship, in spite of the outcome.
      I like that you called the regimental party, the last waltz. Spot on.
      Tzhe descriptions of the weather were bordering on the heavy handed. Nowadays, a writer wouldn’t get away with it, but I enjoyed it here.
      I agree, it’s not exactly a nostalgic novel.
      Thanks again, for reading with us. It was a pleasure to read your comments.

  5. Hi Caroline,
    I agree with you about Roth’s portrayal of women, and you’re right that if he had included fully developed female characters, it would have been a longer and, really, a much different book. I think Roth was solely focused on portraying relationships between men.
    I also agree with you about Carl Joseph’s last act for his men.
    I also loved the regimental party, every bit, every image, every scene was pitch-perfect. To think of how many writers have written elegies to that last summer before the war ended–Roth’s rendering has to be one of the most memorable.

    • Hi Judith,

      I’m glad you read along with us. The party chapter is amazing, isn’t it? In some ways I would have liked it if he had included female charcaters but in others I think it would have been an other novel and this one is very good as it is. I’m wondering now if Roth has ever described any great female characters. Not in the novels I read and I’ve read at leats three or four.

  6. Thanks for hosting, Caroline! I enjoyed reading your take on Part 3, especially your point about Carl Joseph’s act being more heroic than his grandfather’s because it was a conscious choice and he was trying to help people. I hadn’t seen it in that way before.

    I love that map, too, and have downloaded it to study more. We’ve spent much of the past year travelling through eastern Europe and have covered a huge amount of territory, and it’s astonishing to think that most of it was in the old Austria-Hungary. Architecturally, we definitely noticed the consistency, from Lviv and Chernivtsi in the east to the beautiful old towns of Romania and then Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and finally Austria itself. The same cobbled squares, grand theatres, and other buildings so solid you’d think that the people who built them would also be around forever. But there’s not much else left.

    • My pleasure, Andrew. It was great that you joined.
      I had no idea you travelled in Eastern Europe. It’s quite astonishing to see how huge the Empire was, isn’t it? I can imaigne there’s some architectural consistency.
      What a fascinating journey you had.
      It’s interesting to think the book is framed by two such different heroic acts. One conscious but small in scope, costs the hero his life, one unconscious but huge and has an impact on a family and a country.

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