The Radetzky March is a meditation on the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the prism of three generations of the Trotta family. The novel opens in 1859 at the Battle of Solferino, when the young Lieutenant Trotta saves the life of the Emperor and is ennobled. He owes the Empire everything, and his son also becomes a conscientious servant of the great multinational state even as it enters into its period of chaos, with competing nationalisms and ideologies tearing it apart. The final generation of Trottas cannot comprehend or survive the collapse of the Empire, which no longer has any purchase on reality.
Beginning at the moment when the Habsburg dominions began to crumble, and ending at the moment when the old Emperor's body is finally entombed in the vault of Capuchins in Vienna, the narrative arc of Roth's novel is perfectly judged. However, it is Roth's intelligent compassion and ironic sense of history that confer on The Radetzky March its greatness.
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