Samantha Ellis at Literary Review:
In 1938, Joseph Roth sat across the street watching the demolition of the Paris hotel he called home. He drank, he smoked and he wrote a short, sharp, lyrical piece describing how, ‘because the hotel is shattered and the years I lived in it have gone, it seems bigger’. On the last remaining wall he could still see the blue and gold wallpaper of what had been his room. After it had been torn down, he drank and joked with ‘the destroyers’, until the significance of the moment hit him: ‘You lose one home after another … terror flutters up, and it doesn’t even frighten me any more. And that’s the most desolate thing of all.’ This is pure Roth, nostalgia vying with irony, gallows humour saving him from despair. Writing was for him a form of survival: ‘I can only understand the world when I’m writing, and the moment I put down my pen, I’m lost.’
Roth loved hotels. He called himself a Hotelpatriot. In hotels, one could ‘strip off an old life’. Throughout Keiron Pim’s thrilling biography, the first in English, we see Roth in ‘endless flight’, constantly shedding those old lives.