Europe Central

Europe Central

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143036593
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/29/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 832
Sales rank: 379,195
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

William T. Vollmann is the author of ten novels, including Europe Central, which won the National Book Award.  He has also written four collections of stories, including The Atlas, which won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a memoir, and six works of nonfiction, including Rising Up and Rising Down and Imperial, both of which were finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harpers, Esquire, Granta, and many other publications.


Sacramento, California

Date of Birth:

July 28, 1959

Place of Birth:

Santa Monica, California


Attended Deep Springs College and Cornell University

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Europe Central 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 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.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some folks enjoy light reading in summer, but I save those extra daylight hours for the heavies. I¿d been dying to read William T. Vollmann¿s massive cold war epic Europe Central since it won the National Book Award in 2005. Well worth my wait, Europe Central is a work of art as brutal and heavy as the 88mm shells which litter its chapters. Which is not to say the story lacks moral delicacy. Tough times require tough¿ well you know. Vollmann utilizes prosopography to present a cyclical narrative that spans the German invasion of Russia to height of the Cold War in the 1970s. Equivalent German and Russian historical figures are paired and their psychological responses to fanatical ideology are contrasted in a mesh of recurrent tropes. The cast of characters includes German printmaker Kathe Kollwitz, communist documentarian Roman Karmen, Nazi general Friedrich Paulus, and Soviet general Andrei Vaslov (both of whom defect to enemy¿s side when captured). Last but not least is Dimitri Shostakovitch whose life and work epitomizes the moral ambiguities and ideological confusions at which Vollmann aims his bright spotlight. Even today musicologists debate the thematic intention of Shostakovitch's body of work. The ambiguity exists only within the personal sphere, within the public sphere the result of hard line ideology is, of course, mass murder. Admist all this death, denial and despair transmuted there is also a love story. Vollmann casts Elena Konstantinovskaya as the love of Shostakovitch's life. She is Shostakovitch's mistress, not his wife and their relationship is idealized in is mind, crystallizing into a perfection which may or may not conform to reality to the reality of their relationship. His love for Elena, or the memories thereof, are like the political fantasies of Hitler or Stalin, i.e., unattainable.The horror of the novel is nearly spoiled by the story of SS officer Kurt Gerstein who clandestinely tried to expose the Holocaust. This is the only section of the book that comes dangerously close to an elementary school morality lesson. Fortunately, at least on an aesthetic level, Gerstein's end is an tragic as the rest.You might be thinking, ¿Bryan this book sounds terrible!¿ I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Nazi and Soviet culture, anyone interested in the history of the Eastern Front during World War II, and anyone interested in the life and music of Dmitri Shostakovitch. Though cast of characters is based on historical persons, Europe Central is a work of fiction and the primary reason to experience the book is the artistry of William Vollmann. His prose are precise and evoke a modernist tone. Recurring themes, repeated vocabulary, and chronological interlacing weave a snowy bloodstained tapestry across fifty years heartbreak and political violence. Think of Europe Central as a photo negative Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, or a constructivist War and Peace.
jmundale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was listening to audio and have to give up after the first four hours. I could not follow the story line, perhaps because of the distractions from driving. If I were reading it I do not think I could give it the concentration it required to read. It was well written with interesting subplots and well developed characters, perhaps it was just not my kind of book
lriley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Vollmann's 'Europe Central' like most of his work demands a lot of time and attention from his readers. Set between pre-WWII Russia and Germany it begins by following the peregrinations of certain Russian and German cultural icons--Kathe Kollwitz, Anna Akhmatova and Dmitri Shostakovitch. On the one hand it is a meditation on repression and dictatorship and on the other hand of the psychologies of the totalitarian viewpoints that led Europe into another World War. Told from a multiplicity of viewpoints it can be a complicated book. Vollmann takes some pains to help readers differentiate between the characters--particularly the Russian ones. Moving towards the middle of the book--we move into the war itself following through the the fictionalized eyes of the Russian general Vlasov who switched sides to the Germans and also the eyes of Field Marshall (for a day) Paulus who rather than fight to the last man and then commit suicide as Hitler would have had it--instead surrendered at Stalingrad--an event that turned the tide of the war at least in the European theater. Some of this retelling BTW--fictionalized or not is fascinating.The book ends in the post war period--we follow Stasi agents in Eastern Germany--Shostakovich as well comes back to the forefront--more and more dismissive of his own regime which had terrorized him for so long. Even so the new Kruschevian regime is able easily enough to manipulate him. We also see the building and the falling of the wall.A detailed analysis of Europe Central would take a lot more time and space than I have here. What I'd rather do iis give something of the flavor of it. I liked it a lot--Vollmann's insights though sometimes risky (and he admits to taking many liberties with actual facts) are usually intriguing. It moves along very well--even if does often jump around in time and space and character. It is as much about looking beneath the surface of events and percieving alternative realities--this is where the risky nature of it comes in. These perceptions though are not so much reaches as in what if's?--because they are not really meant to change what we've come to know (generally speaking) as the histories of those times and events but seem to me to put in place to give us a better perspective of life in those totalitarian societies. It is a work of historical 'fiction'. Anyway I think it's well worth reading and well worth the acclaim and prizes it has received.
Lapsus16 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book, good writing, engaging story, absurd political stance. Enough of Shostakovich as a victim of Stalin, there are tens of books written on this, all while people forget that at the same time black folks had no rights in America, that books are censured by libraries even today in our country! Shostakovich was paid by the Soviet government,enjoyed popularity beyond cult, and was criticized by his landlord. OK. I got it, Stalin was bad, bad Shostakovich is not the best composer of the century because of Stalin! He had a private life, an open marriage (quite advanced given the times), was happily having affairs and minded for the most part his own business, which was an incredible gift for composition. Not a good pianist, according to his peers, technically superb but very cold, cold as a person as well, not a big social animal.The rest of the book hinges on this chapter, and tries to compare Hitler to Stalin. The historical accuracy is laughable sometimes, says that Dimitri's dad was "liberal, communist", terms that in Europe had and have opposite valence, liberal being a conservative. The description of the siege of Leningrad makes Hitlerites look as good guys...But as I said it reads well, and if you are interested in fact checking it may actually be a useful starting point.
shawnd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Biased because I think Vollmann is in the top 5 writers based on ability alive today. This book is not a miss. Pre-war and WWII Germany wouldn't be my favorite topic, not really interested in German or Russian composers or Hitler or Stalin. However, the writing is so good I didn't care. It does get a little slow in places, and becomes deliberate--I think only Stephen King can successfully pull of an 800 page plus book without losing any pace. However, for a perspective on how Fascism could emerge or how people could live in that culture, or just to get some amazing writing, read this.
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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.