Monday, 8 November 2021

Job, Joseph Roth: in Tuosist

I chose Job by Joseph Roth to take to Tuosist last week. A spontaneous outing to the land, to other lands than here, demands spontaneous choice of reading. I last read Job five years ago. Once every five years is often enough for the deep sources, the temperature of the years before I was born. A small, complete woodland in Tuosist, facing northwest along the bay, is a deep source too.

We walk and stumble and pause among trees that have been growing and decaying for about a hundred years. Out of sheer, fruitful, lassitude. Weaving their way. Falling down, waiting, renewing and regrowing, out of the moss of ages and the soakage of leaves, of the southwestern edge of this island. Oak, hazel, holly and moss, with clearings. A venerable crabapple. That softness of consolidation. The sight of next year's primroses, a stack of rock inside trees. Druidic. Lost. Then a clearing. And again. Several magisterial oaks. Holly of all ages. Hazel throughout. Sika deer upending through the dark afternoon. Streams spreading into a boggy patch in front of the sea, with tough tussocky grass and bog asphodel.

Job is the tale of Mendel Singer, an ordinary Russian Jew, the way Jews assert their ordinariness with such conviction and resignation that it is extraordinary: he teaches, he prays, his family takes its course, towards extinction, he supposes. Russia, New York, it is the same, children betraying, dying and going insane, all narratives half-understood, but onward. Before, during and after World War 1.

But there is a happy ending. Menuchim, the last child, the cripple, the idiot, the silent, was left behind when his family moved to America. His mother would have taken him on the boat in a bag, but feared that immigration might lance all the bags to check the contents, and kill him. Menuchim, epileptic, crippled, vanishes from the story, thought dead.  

At the start of World War 1, Mendel Singer's home town, and Joseph Roth's, on the borders of Austria-Hungary and Russia, is sacked and burned. Menuchim is helped from a burning house, and shouts Fire, his second word. Mama was his first. He is taken to a hospital where a doctor cures him, then shelters him in his own home; thus, after long travail and discovery, Menuchim is reborn. Through music. He sits at a piano and finds he can play anything that is in his head.

He has brought his song from the home village to his father in New York. A future spun out of long silence. Ancient woodland regenerates. Out of abandonment grows a song.  

America can produce miracles of this kind. 

So can Tuosist.


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