The Leviathan

Fiction

Joseph Roth
translated by Michael Hofmann

Joseph Roth's final novella, The Leviathan, concerns a shtetl's finest coral merchant and how his dream of seeing the sea for the first time materializes at a terrible cost.

In the small town of Progrody, Nissen Piczenik makes his living as the most respected coral merchant of the region. Nissen has never been outside of his town, deep in the Russian interior, and fantasizes that a Leviathan watches the coral reefs. When the sailor nephew of one of Progrody's residents comes to visit, NIssen loses little time in befriending him for the purpose of learning about the sea. The sailor offers Nissen a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to Odessa and tour his ship. Nissen leaves his business during the peak coral season, and stays in Odessa for three weeks. But upon his return to Progrody, Nissen finds that a new coral merchant has moved into the neighboring town, and his coral is quickly becoming the most sought after. As his customers dwindle, life takes an evil twist for Nissen Piczenik. And the final decider of his fate may be the devil himself.