Review - Viennese Romance, David Vogel

Hi folks, my review for Viennese Romance by David Vogel is now available on the Readings website, or below:

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In 2012, poet and novelist David Vogel posthumously set the Israeli literary world alight with his unpublished manuscript, Viennese Romance. Scribed on 15 large sheets of paper in tiny writing, it was uncovered during a search for Vogel’s 1934 novella, Facing the Sea. Most likely written in the 1920s, it is the latest of his works to be translated for the English-speaking world.

The protagonist of Viennese Romance is 18-year-old Michael Rost, a Russian-Polish Jew who arrives in Vienna with no money or direction. In the smoke-filled cafes and bars, he soon finds himself in the company of aristocrats, artisans and actors, all of whom have Woody Allen-style obsessions with philosophy, despite Rost’s own disengagements. ‘In my opinion most men of action invest themselves in activity itself, in order to save themselves from the boredom and emptiness of doing nothing, and the goal incidental … How do you intend to live?’ asks the man who later becomes Rost’s patron.

The novel is also an account of Vogel’s sexual awakening. In Vienna, Vogel himself had an affair with his landlady and his landlady’s daughter. Here the women are fictionalised as Gertrude, a woman whose loneliness and near-obsession with Rost is born out of ‘existing in a state of constant thirst, forever unsatisfied’, and her 16-year-old daughter Erna, who although initially wary of Rost’s involvement with her mother, later only wishes to ‘hide her hand in [Rost’s] forever; to be buried inside him, reduced to a tiny, distant dot at the core of his being’. Each woman is acutely drawn, and in this arena Vogel’s observations are deeply felt.

Vogel later died in Auschwitz. Viennese Romance is a seminal addition to the secular Hebrew canon, providing vital insight into the history of the Jewish diaspora. Along with its author, it must not be forgotten.