The Legend of the Holy Drinker
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This book, one of the most haunting things that Roth ever composed, was published in 1939, the year the author died. Like Andreas, the hero of the story, Roth drank himself to death in Paris, but this is not an autobiographical confession. It is a secular miracle-tale, in which the vagrant Andreas, after living under bridges, has a series of lucky breaks that lift him briefly onto a different plane of existence. The novella is extraordinarily compressed, dry-eyed and witty, despite its melancholic subject-matter. The Legend of the Holy Drinker was tumed into a film by Enrico Olmi, starring Rutger Hauer.
Thérèse working for you?’ Again, he made no reply, and so she was convinced that her suspicion was well-founded. She demanded to be taken to the cinema. He took her to the cinema. It was the first film he’d seen in ages. In fact it was so long since he’d seen one that he could barely follow it, and he fell asleep on Caroline’s shoulder. Then they went on to a dance-hall where there was an accordionist, and it was so long since he’d last danced that he didn’t know how to dance properly any more
appreciate his true worth again, he urgently needed to be able to reflect on the subject at leisure, and over a glass of Pernod. He identified the most welcoming of the circumjacent hostelries, sat down and ordered a Pernod. Over his drink, he recalled that he was actually living in Paris without a residence permit, and he checked through his papers. And there he found that he had in fact been expelled from the country, because he had come to France as a coalminer, from Olschowice in Polish
himself. Finally he opened it, and saw that it had two compartments. Curious, he peered into both of them, and saw that one contained a banknote. He took it out. It was one thousand francs. He put the thousand francs in his trouser pocket, and went down to the bank of the Seine, where, indifferent to being watched by any of his fellow-unfortunates, he washed his face, yes, and his neck too, almost joyfully. Then he put on his jacket again, and went out into the day, a day which he began by
the film abruptly took a happy turn, and the man in the desert was rescued by a passing caravan of scientific researchers, and whisked back to the cradle of European civilisation. Whereupon Andreas lost all respect for the hero. He was about to get up and leave when there appeared on the screen the image of the school friend whose picture he had seen a little earlier, behind the proprietor’s back, when he had been propping up the bar. It was Kanjak the great footballer. Seeing him on the screen
belong together, whom fate had simply thrown together. The night stretched out ahead of them like an empty desert. And they were at a loss what to do together, having rather frivolously squandered the principal experience that a man and woman may have together. And so they decided to avail themselves of the facility reserved to people in our own century when they don’t know what to do — they went to the cinema. And they sat there, and it wasn’t pitch-black, it wasn’t even dark, in fact it could