Europe Central

Europe Central

3.5 8
by William T. Vollmann
     
 

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A daring literary masterpiece and winner of the National Book Award. 

In this magnificent work of fiction, acclaimed author William T. Vollmann turns his trenchant eye on the authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the twentieth century to render a mesmerizing perspective on human experience during wartime. Through interwoven narratives that

Overview

A daring literary masterpiece and winner of the National Book Award. 

In this magnificent work of fiction, acclaimed author William T. Vollmann turns his trenchant eye on the authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the twentieth century to render a mesmerizing perspective on human experience during wartime. Through interwoven narratives that paint a composite portrait of these two battling leviathans and the monstrous age they defined, Europe Central captures a chorus of voices both real and fictional— a young German who joins the SS to fight its crimes, two generals who collaborate with the enemy for different reasons, the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Stalinist assaults upon his work and life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"His most welcoming work, possibly his best book . . . part novel and part stories, virtuoso historical remembrance and focused study of violence."
- The New York Times Book Review 

"A jarring, haunting, absurdly ambitious symphony of a book . . . It has an emotional force capable of ripping almost any reader from his moorings. . . . Vollmann has done as much as anyone in recent memory to return moral seriousness to American fiction." 
- Steve Kettmann, San Francisco Chronicle 

"Resembles War and Peace not merely in its scope, but in its perception of history as a determining force that individual lives merely illustrate . . . Aspires to the highest possible potential of literature."
- Melvin Jules Bukiet, Los Angeles Times

"A grimly magnificent dramatization of the impossible moral choices forced on individuals by these totalitarian regimes . . . if you have been following Vollmann's extraordinary career, Europe Central may be his best novel ever."
 - Steven Moore, The Washington Post

"Profound . . . Vollmann asks us to put aside what we think we know of history and immerse ourselves in it once again."
 
John FreemanThe Boston Globe

Tom LeClair
Europe Central gives us 37 stories, five of them more than 50 pages long, to represent Central European fanaticism and to recover little-known acts of conscientious resistance to Nazi and Communist totalitarianism. What sets ''Europe Central'' apart from Vollmann's other large-scale historical productions is its strong narrative lines. The pieces are dated and arranged chronologically to give the book a plot that arcs from prewar political machinations to Germany's surge east to Russia's counteroffensive, and that ends with cold war politics in divided Berlin.
— The New York Times
Steven Moore
I've reviewed nearly all of Vollmann's books over the years and am running out of superlatives; suffice it to say, if you've been following his extraordinary career, Europe Central may be his best novel yet.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In the small set of America's best contemporary novelists, Vollmann is the perpetual comet. Every two years or so he flashes across the sky with another incredibly learned, incredibly written, incredibly long novel. Two years ago, with Argall, he easily bested John Barth in the writing of 17th-century prose while taking up the tired story of the settlement of Jamestown and making it absolutely riveting. His latest departs from his usual themes-the borders between natives and Westerners, or prostitutes and johns-to take on Central Europe in the 20th century. "The winged figures on the bridges of Berlin are now mostly flown, for certain things went wrong in Europe...." What went wrong is captured in profiles of real persons (Kathe Kollwitz, Kurt Gerstein, Dmitri Shostakovich, General Paulus and General Vlasov) as well as mythic personages (a shape-shifting Nazi communications officer and creatures from the German mythology Wagner incorporated into his operas). Operation Barbarossa-the German advance into Russia in 1941, and the subsequent German defeat at Stalingrad and Kursk-is central here, with the prewar and postwar scenes radiating out from it, as though the war were primary, not the nations engaged in it. The strongest chapter is a retelling of Kurt Gerstein's life; Gerstein was the SS officer who tried to warn the world about the concentration camps while working as the SS supply agent for the gas chambers. The weakest sections of the book are devoted to the love triangle between Shostakovich, Elena Konstantinovskaya and film director Roman Karmen. Throughout, Vollman develops counternarratives to memorialize those millions who paid the penalties of history. Few American writers infuse their writing with similar urgency. Agent, Susan Golomb. 5-city author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The daring Vollman forges a chain of paired stories highlighting similarities between authoritarian Germany and the USSR. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143036593
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/29/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
832
Sales rank:
506,157
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

William T. Vollmann is the author of eight novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and Rising Up and Rising Down, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction. Vollman's writing has been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Paris Review, Esquire, Conjunctions, Granta, and many other magazines. He lives in California.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Sacramento, California
Date of Birth:
July 28, 1959
Place of Birth:
Santa Monica, California
Education:
Attended Deep Springs College and Cornell University

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Europe Central 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I can't remember the last time I chose not to complete a book. This would be the first time in about 20 years. I quit reading at page 140. I've been reading primarily award winners and there are too many other good books to read. On the 'reader's sophistication meter', I don't claim to register any higher than a 'C+'. So keep that in mind when I state I found no enjoyment whatsoever in making it to page 140. The book is disjointed, full of reference to obscure persons, 'undefined' pronouns. Very difficult to follow, understand. I regard this book as more of an academic work, almost poetic. Definitely not recreational reading. Vollmann's intent seems to be to display his clever writing style rather than of creating a work for readers to enjoy. If that's what you want, read on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A tour de force without be overwhelming. A narrative in intimately personal and moral terms of the clash of naziism and communism which rent the fabric of Europe, and drew in the world. The term 'historical fiction' does not do it justice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dense, meandering, oppressively boring, often incoherent, bordering on unreadable. The awards are for its subject matter i.e. fascism, creativity, nationalism, individualism, war and art and for the intellectual power of the author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am amazed at the historical details known by the author. However, a minor correction is in order. It was Goebbels and not Goring who had a romantic relationship with the Czech actress Lida Baarova.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
... for anyone interested in the interplay between fragile humanism and the potentially crushing power of the state. Vollman deftly shows how 20th century fascism and communism were really two sides of the same coin, a coin that rendered individual moral choice, art and meaningful social interaction all but impossible.