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Readalongs > Job: The Story of a Simple Man by Joseph Roth (Dhanaraj & Jenny)

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Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Starting around the 25th of November.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Just began and the story takes you in immediately. The book begins almost like the Book of Job in the Bible. There are few things I learnt - especially the popular piety of the Jews relating to the dead ancestors.

One thing confused me or I could not understand: That is, when the vaccination for the small pox was carried out in the Jewish ghetto everyone runs to hide and when the hidden ones are being found out they lament heavily. Why is this? I am not sure.

Jenny, do you have any idea about it? I will also go in search for some more information. If you know something, share it.

P.S. Temporarily I have halted my reading to begin again on 25th November. Will share more of my impressions as you begin reading it.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Hey Dhanaraj, no I honestly don't know why that is. Did your online research bear fruits? I will start it on Monday (or maybe late Sunday) as I am still reading Richard Yates, but don't feel forced to hold back on reading! I'll just join you in discussion once I've started it.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments About vaccination for smallpox and Jewish fear, I got an interesting information. Check this out, specially the part dealt under the sub-title of Vaccination Risks: http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48943486.html


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Starting this afternoon!


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I am halfway through. So I will be waiting for your observations. As of now, the Jewishness of a Russian Jew is very clearly present in the book. I feel that I am living in a Jewish family of 1930's Russia.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I guess that's the beauty of literature! ;)


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I've finished the first 4 chapters and stopped to read about Job (or Hiob as we call him) the biblical figure, since as we've discussed earlier my memory of the Old Testament is more than sketchy. In fact it is very very close to being non-existent ;)

I thought it was interesting to read the different interpretations of the story for Christianity , Judaism and the Islamic world. I was particularly interested in how the story was used in order to solve the question of Theodicy. To explain why even those who live by the law of God have to suffer. Unfortunately that explaination leaves me with an image of God that I find hard not to be repulsed by. A God that gambles away the life of a man to prove his point to Satan? So rather than explaining that problem away it actually made it worse (in my head at least) and the question: 'why would God punish the innocent' is now replaced (again, in my head at least) by the question why I should believe in a superior power that is in need of that kind of muscle-play to prove his point? Maybe you can help there Dhanaraj. Did that story ever do the trick for you in solving the theodicy question? What am I missing?

We talked about different ways of belief before, and though I do not believe in God in any traditional sense I believe in life as the thin red thread that goes through everything. I guess I believe in it the way other people believe in God and infact I am not so sure whether those two beliefs really are so different from one another, or whether belief in life is one of the underlying principles to all religions. The benefit of believing this way is that a belief that doesn't have a 'father figure' is much less in need of a clear narrative or a moral justification. Life just is. I guess it is as easy to loose faith in it, but by not being in need to apply moral standards to the principle that I believe to be bigger than I am it is harder to get into an heated arguement with it ;)


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Jenny, you are exactly speaking like the Portuguese writer, Clarice Lispector whose books I am reading at present. She also speaks for the Life-force as being always present even before our birth and after our death. The quote for you of Clarice Lispector: "I was born like this: drawing from my mother's uterus the life that was always eternal."


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I guess I should give her another try then. I've read The Passion According to G.H. which I loved in part, and found too self-absorbed in others, which is odd of me to say, because my tolerance for navel-gazing literature is usually very high.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments About your thoughts on God-figure and the sufferings of the innocent:
The Book of Job belongs to the division called Wisdom Literature. And it is a parable. Jews believed that a righteous man (who follows the Law of Moses) will always be blessed. And if a person undergoes a misfortune then there has to be a reason. That reason was attributed to the sins that he might have committed. This was a theology of Retribution and it was popular among Jews during the time the Book of Job was written. If you read the book of Job, the friends of Job always present this position. They are convinced that Job had sinned and they continuously ask him to repent. Job does not do it initially. Because he believes and knows that he had led a righteous life. But then the continuous misfortunes slowly force him to think in line of his friends. If this theology was an answer to the question of suffering still there were some who really lived immaculate life and still they struggled. On the other hand there was also a problem of the evil living happily with prosperity. How does one explain that? No one knew how to explain. The Biblical author of Job presents the theology of Retribution but does not hold it as right theology. God answers to the pleas of Job in the book of Job but then his answer is not direct. He explains something about creation. The problem always remained a problem. God would never do anything like this if he is a good God. But then we as human beings can not always understand the magnitude of Him. The answer lies in him and meanwhile we are called to remain faithful to the commandments. That is the ending of the Biblical book.


message 12: by Dhanaraj (last edited Nov 24, 2013 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments It is not God, a superior being that wants to prove something for which the simple man's life is tossed about. That is not the motive of the Biblical book of Job. The question answered in this Biblical story is how to understand the suffering of innocent man and what is he/she to do in the midst of continuous sufferings.

The satan asks permission of God to wreck the life of Job is only a small consolation which is rightly interpreted as God's omniscience, i.e., whatever happens happens according to the will of God. God is the Master of all events. Trust in God and walk righteously before him in spite of the misfortunes. That is the answer proposed in Job.

Hope, I have not become too preachy....


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Not too preachy at all Dhanaraj, it is interesting to get the facts on it.

I don't really understand the beginning of your second post though, what isn't God? The one who wants to prove a point?


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I have edited the post. I think it is now understandable, I mean the first line of my previous post.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Thanks Dhanaraj, yes, I get it know. I guess I should read the biblical book maybe. I understand as you've explained that the motiviation behind the parable is a different one, however when I read the secondary sources the 'proving the point' thing is what jumps out at me.

Reading Paradise Lost and probably reading Dante's Divine Comedy with Laura next year makes me want to go back to the biblical sources of it all, the Old Testament. Care for a readalong in 2014? LOL, just joking, but I think I will actually try and do that sometime next year before picking up Dante.

Did you ever read Paradise Lost? Or Dante (and would you maybe like to join in with the Divine Comedy)? I just witnessed Death being born in book 2 of Paradise Lost. It is an astonishing book really.

Sorry to take you off track. Back to reading 'Job'. ;)


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I fell in love with Satan when I read the Paradise Lost. We had it in the Bachelors and the professor was so good that everyone loved Satan. I have not read Paradise Regained.

I have not read Dante though and I will like to try that. May be next year as you suggested.

An Aside: Do you know Samuel Johnson's or some one else's comment on Milton. It goes somewhat like this. Milton wrote Paradise Lost, then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained. Lol.....


message 17: by Jenny (last edited Nov 24, 2013 12:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments LOL, no I didn't know that! I will probably be reading Paradise Regained sometime in the end of December if you want to join. Or next year, I am not quite sure yet.
The thing with Satan is happening to me too. It's like this adventure novel reflex where you find yourself cheering for whoever is introduced as the hero ;)

By the way, any thoughts on this sentence: 'Zum erstenmal galt es, das kranke Kind zu umarmen, und es war Schemarjah, als hätte er nicht einen Bruder zu küssen, sondern ein Symbol, das keine Antwort gibt'
free and crappy translation:

For the first time it was necessary to embrace the sick child, and to Schemarjah it felt, as if he weren't to kiss a brother but a symbol that didn't answer.

It is very close to the beginning of chapter 5, when Schemarjah is being picked up. (I would sing your praise if you could tell me what the properly translated sentence sounds like ;))


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Your translation is almost the same as what I have in the translation: "For the first time it was necessary to embrace the sick child, and it seemed to Shemariah that it was not a brother whom he must kiss, but a symbol that could give no answer."


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Thanks Dhanaraj, what did you make of it? What's the symbol?


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Did you observe that in the fourth chapter there are few themes that we had already discussed:

When Mendel speaks of his sons' conscription into the army he says the following: "Let the sons serve, they won't go to the bad; AGAINST THE WILL OF HEAVEN THERE IS NO POWER."

Little later when Mendel tries to teach Menuchim and at the end with despair he thinks thus: "Why am I so afflicted? thought Mendel, and HE EXPLORED HIS CONSCIENCE FOR SINS BUT FOUND NONE THAT WAS GRAVE."


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I did not think anything special about the Symbol when I was reading it. May be the pull of the story did not make me to observe it. But now it looks like something to be reflected upon. Symbol is usually that which stands for something beyond. If that is so, Menuchim becomes a symbol and does he stand to signify something else?

I have not thought about that. What did you think about it and what is your observation?


message 22: by Jenny (last edited Nov 24, 2013 09:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments I did observe that Dhanaraj! I am glad I stopped after a few chapters to get better aquaintet with the story of Job, I am very curious what Roth will make of it, and how closely he will follow the biblical story.

As for the symbol: I am not sure either. It could be many things. My first association was how his siblings consistently tried to neglect, hurt and even kill him when they had to watch over him. A possible explaination I had in my head: For them he symbolized the challenge given to them by God the suffering inflicted on them (it is Mendel who receives the challenge but his family that is suffering along with him), and they instincively sense it and are trying to get rid of it. If he symbolized that challenge, it also makes sense that 'the symbol doesn't anwer back', if Menuchim symbolizes the challenge he in some respects also symbolizes God who apparently refused to answer directly. Remember how Mendel contemplated life without his wife and the rest of his family but wanted to stay close to Menuchim? I might be completely delusional, but to me it seems that their disabled child in Roth's story somehow represents the suffering inflicted and by doing so also represents God. So remaining faithful to his son equals remaining faithful to God.

Question: did the biblical Job have a disabled child (horrible word actually, but I don't know a better word for 'disabled' in English)?


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments The Biblical Job did not have a physically challenged child (an epileptic).

And your interpretation for the symbol looks interesting. Menuchim represents God's challenge and thus represents God. What is required of the family members is to be faithful to Menuchim. I also want to make my observation that Menuchim is also observed as the blessing of God and the blessing will/may be realized after very long time.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Also interestingly the promise and its late fulfillment is one of the themes of Old Testament. For instance, when the Israelites were promised of the land of honey and milk and when they were liberated from Egypt by God through Moses the way to the promised land lasted for forty years, which is not normal. Certainly Joseph Roth knew the themes of Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) very well and so nicely and aptly he used it in his story. There are many more Biblical allusions that I loved.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Dhanaraj, you pointing out the references really helps actually, the one with the lenght of journey for example (or the time it took) I might have missed had you not said anything. And you are absolutely right: Menuchim is introduced both as a challenge and a blessing (which is pretty much what I imagine faith to be)


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments "Menuchim is introduced both as a challenge and a blessing (which is pretty much what I imagine faith to be)" - In fact I began to see Menuchim closely only after you had pointed out the element of SYMBOL. Otherwise I had considered Menuchim as one among many sufferings of Job (Mendel). But now the revelation is luminous and completely changes the perspective.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments From chapter 10:

"Let her be stupid! Women need no brains. God bless her. Amen."

"But it is not written: Love thy father and thy mother, but Honour thy father and thy mother."

Any thoughts.....


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Hey Dhanaraj, didn't manage to get any reading done today as my mother travelled from Dresden to come visit me for a couple of days. I will hopefully have some more time tomorrow though. Let me think about that sentence, I'll let you know if something pops up. Also: Mendel in America, and the amount of time he uses the word 'Vaterland' (what is this in English?) seing as God is THE Father. Wonder whether there's an intended connection.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Vaterland is Fatherland in English and not much difference. The connection between God as Father and America as the Fatherland is interesting. Added to this there are also mentioning of America as God's own country in many places. But then. I would not hold for it and even Joseph Roth may not hold for it in this novel. I have just now completed reading the novel.

I have not stopped myself from crying. The last two chapters, specially the penultimate chapter will move you to tears. I reserve few more observations as of now.

An aside: It seems, the birthday celebration is already picking up lot of colours with the arrival of the mother. I sincerely wish you a great day tomorrow and a fantastic celebration. Give a special hug and kiss to your mother for it was she who fought bravely the pangs of childbirth to give you life. Happy Birthday wishes in advance.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments thank you Dhanaraj!


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Dhanaraj, I will finish the book today. I already don't want to put it down, but life and work get in the way of reading! LOL. Can't wait to talk about the book with you. Btw: what will you be reading next? Should we read Christa now, or leave it for later?


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments About Christa Wolf's book: I leave it your choice whether we want to read it now or later. I have some other books at my disposal. Presently I am reading Clarice Lispector's A Breath of Life and have some other books also in line. So no problem even if you decide to read Christa later.


message 33: by Jenny (last edited Nov 28, 2013 11:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Dhanaraj, sitting in a cafe with my scarf pulled deep into my face so that I don't looks like a mad woman crying in public ;) Just finished the book. What a wonderful book! Just needed to share that moment. I will write more once I am at home tonight.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Home now. I thought the ending was beautiful and I was very grateful that Roth ended it the way he did. Imperfect. Without resurrecting all his children, but the one that stood for so much.Unlike the biblical story as far as I know it. I was very touched by the way Roth discribed this old man. Very touched also by something that happens in life so often, the change of roles between parents and children. How the son is now taking care of his father who didn't dare to hope and who is now full of it. Who, in the last moments of his life finds back faith in life, love for life. Beautiful the language Roth found for it. Very gentle, not afraid of pathos but without smothering the story by drowning it in it.


Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments As for Mrs. Wolf: (it feels weird to be talking of a different book already, but I am glad it is her because I know she won't look pale next to Roth) this morning I thought I would like to read her now, a few hours later i thought I would like to end the year with her, and now I am thinking both at the same time. So Dhanaraj, as a service to humanity: please decide!! LOL


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments About Wolf's Book: We will read it now, i.e, in the first week of December. May be, we could start it on 1st December. The reason: I do not want a dense book at the end of December. I want spend the Christmas holidays reading some feel-good light books. Lol.....


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments Jenny wrote: "Dhanaraj, sitting in a cafe with my scarf pulled deep into my face so that I don't looks like a mad woman crying in public ;) Just finished the book. What a wonderful book! Just needed to share tha..."

I was crying all through my reading of the penultimate chapter and even during my reading of the last chapter. I have heard many times people saying that in extreme happiness more tears come out of our eyes. And I experienced it.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments About the end: I think it is exactly like the Biblical ending. He resurrected Menuchim whom he thought as a dead person. And Jonas comes alive after being 'dead' for most of the time. The hope is given that Miriam too will come alive more beautiful. Even his own wife seems resurrected. To me it was exactly a Biblical story.
There was an afterword in my book by Michael Hofmann in which Hofmann had tried to say that this book is not at all about faith and God. To me, it looked a strained effort from him to 'prove' this book as purely human and nothing of divine element. To me, I found everywhere the Biblical themes spread out and the retelling of Biblical Job is perfect to the T.


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I liked your observation about the reversals of the roles of Father and Son. I had not noticed that. That is right. And thanks for sharing.

And do you remember what we had talked about Menuchim being the symbol? You had rightly pointed out that Menuchim represents challenge and thus represents God. What was required of the Singers were to be faithful to him. Your observation proved right in the last two chapters when Menuchim comes as both the miracle and the redeemer.


message 40: by Jenny (last edited Nov 28, 2013 08:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments Dhanaraj wrote: "About the end: I think it is exactly like the Biblical ending. He resurrected Menuchim whom he thought as a dead person. And Jonas comes alive after being 'dead' for most of the time. The hope is g..."
Uh, I didn't know. Wikipedia made it sound as if Hiob was given twice as many children and a new wife 'in exchange' for the ones he's lost, and I couldn't see how ending it in overabundance of blessings would have made for a good ending. Another reason to maybe take a peek into the old testament again;)

As for Christa: the 1st of December is perfect!


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I think either I misunderstood your earlier comments or I had not made myself clear in my comments. What I wanted to say was that the 'core' of the Biblical story of Job was presented very well in Roth's rendering of it. I did not mean that the in an exact manner the Biblical story was re-produced. In Biblical story, the restoration was double fold (except for the wife - Lol) and wikipedia is right. But in Roth's rendering of it the aspect of 'Restoration' is present and that is what I was suggesting and not the literal doubled restoration.


message 42: by dely (new) - rated it 5 stars

dely | 5214 comments Thanks Dhanaraj to tell me about this discussion. I have finished the book and liked to read yours and Jenny's comments.
It was my first book by Roth but I think I will read more by him. I liked above all the language and the descriptions are so vivid: I could see the house, the landscape, the people and feel their emotions. I was involved in their feelings, of every character of the Singer family.
Me too, I had some tears in my eyes reading the last two chapters and as Jenny said it is the perfect end, it isn't that important to know if Mendel's daughter will heal and if Jonas is still alive.
I didn't like of course only the language but also the retelling of Job's story (I had to look for it, didn't know anything about Job) and how Roth depicted the sufferings a believer endures because of/thanks to his faith. Mendel was so real, so true, and I think that a lot of people can relate to him: praising God for a whole life, the anger and then find again faith. It was very touching and depicted in a human way.

Sorry to have "upped" this old discussion, I hope it isn't a problem!


Dhanaraj Rajan | 2962 comments I am happy that you went through the discussion and loved our discussion points. So there is nothing to be sorry about for being 'upped' this old discussion.

Your observation of a simple man with unshakable faith and how that is helping him in his sufferings is very much right.


message 44: by Bannerfischer13 (new)

Bannerfischer13 | 1 comments The book is really awesome
It was pleasure to read it


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