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G leviathans and the terrible age they defined the narrative intertwines experiences both real and fictional a young German who joins the SS to expose its crimes two generals who collaborate with the enemy for 455If you have no interest at all in learning massive amounts about World War II this book is not for you As a matter of fact if you are not in the mood for facts and uotations and references galore packaged in a semi short story fashion refer to the previous statement However if you are alright with that sort of thing you are in for a treatI will admit I panicked a little bit once I realized how jam packed this book is with historical trivia As if that wasn't intimidating enough the writing loves its metaphors and imagery and often descends into extended fantastical meanderings Lots of eagles and octupuses and letters formed in physical settings It was definitely overwhelming at the beginning and contributed to the lengthy amount of time I took to finish the bookWhat helped me get my bearings and start to enjoy the book was the decision to interpret the phantasmagoric uality to the writing as the author's effort to convey just how crazy this time was I have no idea if that's what the author intended but it seemed to work In fact a prime example of this is the map insert at the beginning which consists of an outline of Europe covered in names of military operations as well as nearly nonsensical warlike doodles The further you get in the book the ridiculously brutal the events become especially during the parts concerning Shostakovich He of all the characters most clearly comprehends the menace that surrounds everyone but importantly he understands that despite objections to the contrary none of it makes any sense And it never willThroughout the book there are a number of characters whose morals are challenged who are forced into compromising situations and decisions by the murderous chaos surrounding them Some of them like the Berlin sleepwalker are thought by many to have a hand in the chaos but they are in truth just as trapped by historical events as the rest of them The only difference is their position and how willing they are to disengage from reality in order to do what needs to be done If this doesn't makes sense to those who wish to know the sleepwalker is view spoilerHitler hide spoiler Release (Off Balance, know the sleepwalker is view spoilerHitler hide spoiler

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Europe Central

Different reasons the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich laboring under Stalinist oppression Through these and other lives Vollmann offers a daring and mesmerizing perspective on human actions during wartime ”All magic spells fail without belief We enforced belief” Europe Central is another monstrous book from Vollmann; monstrous in size content language implications critiue of humanity world historical analysis Let’s get something out of the way at the outset This book is a masterpiece horrifying painfully beautiful profound; if you’re a writer you wish you could have written this; and no one could have written this book in these early years of the 21st century except Vollmann In many ways it contains everything Vollmann was working through in his career up to this point The Seven Dreams are here Rising Up and Rising Down is here and most especially You Bright and Risen Angels is here I was going to attempt an abstract that tried to situate EC as the missing second half of YBaRA but that never came to fruition; it’s not like I’m getting paid for my time here; I’ve got other concerns There was a recent discussion with a certain other Vollmanniac about “early” “middle” and “late” Vollmann if distinctions such as these need or could be made at this point and the conclusion Vollmanniac #1 came to is that everything before The Ice Shirt is “early” Vollmann and Imperial signified the beginning of “late” Vollmann need I say that by definition everything in between would be considered “middle”? Well then Europe Central from 2005 can be seen as the node of transition out of “middle” and into “late” Vollmann This thesis makes itself clear to me in the confidence knife edged clarity control precision and strange to say in a book this massive and yes excessive economy of the language employed to tell the stories told here Vollmann’s prose in EC is absolutely mastered; not unwieldy not frivolous; and for all the digressions into surrealistic imagery impressionism dreamlandscapes worlds of the phantasmic dead sexualized nightmare visions hypnagogic fire eaten rubble of war wasted cities this book feels absolutely and appropriately “composed”One of the most interesting uestions one should ask about Europe Central is just who is narrating this beast? Comrade Alexandrov? The Stasi? A Dreamer of History? And who might that be? A Sleepwalker? A Realist? Shostakovich? Gerstein? Paulus? Vlasov? Hilde Benjamin who is the Law? Totalitarian Ideology? Time Unstuck Death where all souls commingle and whisper? Are we watching one of Roman Karmen’s films? All Of The Above? Reader of this review I am asking you to help me answer this uestionModeling its form on Danilo Kiš’s A Tomb For Boris Davidovich which if you haven’t read please to be correcting that oversight posthaste EC takes the structure of that book interrelated bursts of prose explicating the gruesome hypocrisies and corrupted reality of life under totalitarianism and war ranging in length from a few pages to the size of a healthy novella and as Vollmann tends to do maximalizes it expands that idea into infinity Oh another candidate for narrator of EC Infinity What we have then is a panoptic or panoramic view episodic and thus epic internal and external to these people who actually lived told in and outside of their voices filtered through a web of fear and ideological distortions wait another candidate for narrator Fear Warped Space Time rooted in historical event ”These stories are not as rigorously grounded in historical fact as my Seven Dreams books Rather the goal here was to write a series of parables about famous infamous and anonymous European moral actors at moments of decision Most of the characters in this book are real people I researched details of their lives as carefully as I could However this is a work of fiction Poetic justice has I hope been rendered both to them and to their historical situations” but ascending in widening gyres like a V Rocket and flame blooming into that Greatest Fiction that acts as superstructure to all succeeding fictions HistoryAnd thus the enigmatic voice of EC that shifting slithering metamorphosizing never static all static dead end of a blown out telephone receiver hissing demonic overtones the dopplering voice of time collapsing into itself as it passesAnother candidate for narrator of EC Moral Ambiguity in the Time of TerrorOr what does “survival” mean in a wolfhound age? We are shown all of these characters at moments of fatal choice when their epoch had become a mass murderer when ethics became a boot stamping on a human face forever and they were in various guises taken before the door of the Law and told “choose or die” These were days when music became the wavering pitch of a bomb’s descent and the atonal screaming of women and children burning Years when there was no great distinction between ruins of blood and bone and charred buildings This was a fairytale time when steel rivers began to creep throughout Europe Russia Africa and on eastward spreading flame and desolation How did this happen? When might this happen again? And what is it that makes human beings capable not only of composing beautiful books and paintings and symphonies but also of composing air raids and gas chambers and flamethrowers and panzer divisions and the heaven sent weeping strains of the music of the spheres can still be heard burning of Dresden or Guernica or Stalingrad? ”Dresden is Europe Central the walled kingdom in the middle of the past Every day here begins once upon a time ”The uniting thread of these stories might be threnody As sure as Shostakovich’s unkillable heart was hiding in the body of a destroyed piano Is he dead even today? We can hear the past in shards of music and fading photographs Europe Central might be an opera but its stage set is composed of the rubble of the real and its orchestra is performing interpretations of songs that are best not lost or forgotten among the wreckage of History Rebound Roommate (Men of Lake Tahoe Series, knife edged clarity control precision and strange to say in a book this massive and yes excessive economy of the language employed to tell the stories told here Vollmann’s prose in EC is absolutely mastered; not unwieldy not frivolous; and for all the digressions into surrealistic imagery impressionism dreamlandscapes worlds of the phantasmic dead sexualized nightmare visions hypnagogic fire eaten rubble of war wasted cities this book feels absolutely and appropriately “composed”One of the most interesting uestions one should ask about Europe Central is just who is narrating this beast? Comrade Alexandrov? The Stasi? A Dreamer of History? And who might that be? A Sleepwalker? A Realist? Shostakovich? Gerstein? Paulus? Vlasov? Hilde Benjamin who is the Law? Totalitarian Ideology? Time Unstuck Death where all souls commingle and whisper? Are we watching one of Roman Karmen’s films? All Of The Above? Reader of this review I am asking you to help me answer this uestionModeling its form on Danilo Kiš’s A Tomb For Boris Davidovich which if you haven’t read please to be correcting that oversight posthaste EC takes the structure of that book interrelated bursts of prose explicating the gruesome hypocrisies and corrupted reality of life under totalitarianism and war ranging in length from a few pages to the size of a healthy novella and as Vollmann tends to do maximalizes it expands that idea into infinity Oh another candidate for narrator of EC Infinity What we have then is a panoptic or panoramic view episodic and thus epic internal and external to these people who actually lived told in and outside of their voices filtered through a web of fear and ideological distortions wait another candidate for narrator Fear Warped Space Time rooted in historical event ”These stories are not as rigorously grounded in historical fact as my Seven Dreams books Rather the goal here was to write a series of parables about famous infamous and anonymous European moral actors at moments of decision Most of the characters in this book are real people I researched details of their lives as carefully as I could However this is a work of fiction Poetic justice has I hope been rendered both to them and to their historical situations” but ascending in widening gyres like a V Rocket and flame blooming into that Greatest Fiction that acts as superstructure to all succeeding fictions HistoryAnd thus the enigmatic voice of EC that shifting slithering metamorphosizing never static all static dead end of a blown out telephone receiver hissing demonic overtones the dopplering voice of time collapsing into itself as it passesAnother candidate for narrator of EC Moral Ambiguity in the Time of TerrorOr what does “survival” mean in a wolfhound age? We are shown all of these characters at moments of fatal choice when their epoch had become a mass murderer when ethics became a boot stamping on a human face forever and they were in various guises taken before the door of the Law and told “choose or die” These were days when music became the wavering pitch of a bomb’s descent and the atonal screaming of women and children burning Years when there was no great distinction between ruins of blood and bone and charred buildings This was a fairytale time when steel rivers began to creep throughout Europe Russia Africa and on eastward spreading flame and desolation How did this happen? When might this happen again? And what is it that makes human beings capable not only of composing beautiful books and paintings and symphonies but also of composing air raids and gas chambers and flamethrowers and panzer divisions and the heaven sent weeping strains of the music of the spheres can still be heard burning of Dresden or Guernica or Stalingrad? ”Dresden is Europe Central the walled Cure for the Loneliness kingdom in the middle of the past Every day here begins once upon a time ”The uniting thread of these stories might be threnody As sure as Shostakovich’s unkillable heart was hiding in the body of a destroyed piano Is he dead even today? We can hear the past in shards of music and fading photographs Europe Central might be an opera but its stage set is composed of the rubble of the real and its orchestra is performing interpretations of songs that are best not lost or forgotten among the wreckage of History

William T. Vollmann à 0 REVIEW

In this magnificent work of fiction William T Vollmann turns his trenchant eye to the authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the twentieth century Assembling a composite portrait of these two warrin Vollmann’s language is rich and strawberry cream creamy language that without too much ado could be transcribed into TS Elliot style poetry since his themes hit on damaged humanity the power of history and fragmentation and that’s fragmentation as in Dada as in Hannah Höch and John Heartfield photomontage a form of art Adolf Hitler especially despised And with this uote from Mein Kampf “I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker the novel repeatedly refers to Hitler as the sleepwalkerI particularly enjoy the author’s vivid image of those old black rotary telephones having ten eyes “that octopus whose ten round eyes each inscribed with a number glare through you at the world” and then linking the telephone with sleepwalker Hitler “The sleepwalker in the Reich Chancellery could tell you not that he would they’re his eyes lidless oval which imparts to them a monotonously idiotic or hysterical appearance It’s that fluid yet deadly interplay of objects with the human as if Hitler is so omnipresent he is looking at all Nazis under his command as well as the entire population of Europe through the ten eyes of each and every black telephone 1930s 1940s ubiuitous device par excellence “The sleepwalker’s all eyes” And in terms of using his eyes let's not forget Hitler spent many years dedicated to the visual arts drawing and painting as a near starving artist in ViennaReading the first section Steel in Motion I catch initial glimpses of the novel’s stunning historical references for example “Barrage balloons swim in the air finned and fat like children’s renderings” Bulls eye WTV Perfect simile; that’s exactly what those barrage balloons looked like balloon used by the British to defend against air attacks – the cables holding up the balloon would damage enemy aircraft“Steel imbued with the sleepwalker’s magic sight illuminates itself as it comes murdering Again Europe Central shares much with the photomontage of artists like Hannah Höch and John Heartfield a steely emphasis on the intertwining of humans with technologies for example another image of the octopus telephone “From the anus mouth behind the dial” Vollmann soaks the black gadget for all its worth telephone as the eyes and anus of Hitler Yet again another striking uote “Don’t trust any technicians who assure you that this brain is “neutral” – soon you’ll hear how angrily the receiver jitters in its cradle” The author picks up on Marshall McLuhan the media is the message It’s as if in Europe Central the gadgets and all that steel exude a life of their own and are manipulating humans as their flesh and blood pawns “Behind the wall rubberized black tentacles spread across Europe” Ominous ominous – 20th century technology as the strangling octopus throttling choking crushing humans as if a school of helpless little fish in an ocean of unforgiving tentaclesThen in the section entitled The Saviors A Kabbalistic Tale the author uses Aristotelian compare and contrast in presenting Fanya Kaplan with NKKrupskaya two women who saw themselves as good Marxist comrades marching shoulder to shoulder with other like minded comrades toward the land of final synthesis as in Hegel turned on his head thesis antithesis synthesis And age twenty eight special for both Ks Kaplan and Krupskaya since Krupskaya at age twenty eight married Lenin and Kaplan at age twenty eight shot him And each woman as per vintage photos were stunning as a twenty year old but oh my goodness did women age uickly back then especially when sent to prison or Siberia for years of hard labor NKKrupskaya At age twenty eight she married LeninFanya Kaplan At age twenty eight she shot LeninAnyway Vollmann packs in historical facts and lyrical images as if he were stuffing twenty five pounds of potatoes into a 10 pound sack for example we read the following of the last four days in Fanya Kaplan’s life after she shot Lenin “a huddle of twenty four grey subterranean hours like orphaned mice; and in the flesh of every hour a swarm of useless moments like ants whose ueen has perished; and within each moment an uncountable multitude of instants resembling starpointed syllables shaken out of words If you were counting that’s three tightly packed in similes I read a Paris Review interview where Vollmann relates how at one time in his life he was writing sixteen hours a day Now that’s a writer on fire and perhaps on cocaine speed or at least caffeineFor the narrator of Europe Central people stand tall like a certain letter of the alphabet ideas glow like a letter words hum like a letter which reminds me of that Georges Perec uote “Is the aleph that place in Borges from which the entire world is visible simultaneously anything other than an alphabet?” And these Europe Central times are times for men and women of action as in the action packed words of Comrade N V Krylenko “We must execute not only the guilty Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even ” Ironically Comrade Krylenko would himself be shot – I wonder if the masses were impressedHowever nobody could ever doubt Comrade Krylenko was a revolutionary who took his revolution seriously And eually ironic through all the revolutionary slaughter one of N K Krepskaya’s very favorite books was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women And there’s a scene of N K Krepskaya meeting Fanya Kaplan in a prison cell that provides a stroke of Latin American style magical realism Then the letters disappeared into the woman's mouth Krupskaya was speechless The woman began to glow and until the light from her was as white and pure as a page of the TorahOne of my favorite parts of the novel is all the references to Dimitri Shostakovich and his music For example “Best listened to in a windowless room better than best an airless room – correctly speaking a bunker sealed forever and enwrapped in tree roots – the Eighth String uartet of Shostakovich Opus 110 is the living corpse of music perfect in its horror Call it the simultaneous asphyxiation and bleeding of melody” To gain a keener insight and feeling for this novel I listened to this and other Shostakovich string uartets repeatedly during my reading All in all a great novel but I must say not a novel exactly to my taste since I found for one thing the shifting first person narrator who at points could be the voice of the entire continent of Europe at a huge emotional distance from the other characters I contrast this with another 800 page novel set in Europe and Russia during WWII The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell a novel where the first person narrator was a member of the Nazi SS The evil of Littell's novel is so real so immediate so powerful I had to listen to the audiobook while taking my walks and let the evil run down my legs and out the bottom of my feet Europe Central is an encyclopedic literary monument to an incredible time in 20th century European history but for me Vollmann’s novel lacks the power of Littell’sWilliam T Vollmann Asphodel (The Underworld Trilogy, keener insight and feeling for this novel I listened to this and other Shostakovich string uartets repeatedly during my reading All in all a great novel but I must say not a novel exactly to my taste since I found for one thing the shifting first person narrator who at points could be the voice of the entire continent of Europe at a huge emotional distance from the other characters I contrast this with another 800 page novel set in Europe and Russia during WWII The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell a novel where the first person narrator was a member of the Nazi SS The evil of Littell's novel is so real so immediate so powerful I had to listen to the audiobook while taking my walks and let the evil run down my legs and out the bottom of my feet Europe Central is an encyclopedic literary monument to an incredible time in 20th century European history but for me Vollmann’s novel lacks the power of Littell’sWilliam T Vollmann


10 thoughts on “Europe Central

  1. says:

    Vollmann’s language is rich and strawberry cream creamy language that without too much ado could be transcribed into TS Elliot style poetry since his themes hit on damaged humanity the power of history and fragmentation and that’s fragmentation as in Dada as in Hannah Höch and John Heartfield photomontage a form of art Adolf Hitler especially despised And with this uote from Mein Kampf “I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker the novel repeatedly refers to Hitler as the sleepwalkerI particularly enjoy the author’s vivid image of those old black rotary telephones having ten eyes “that octopus whose ten round eyes each inscribed with a number glare through you at the world” and then linking the telephone with sleepwalker Hitler “The sleepwalker in the Reich Chancellery could tell you not that he would they’re his eyes lidless oval which imparts to them a monotonously idiotic or hysterical appearance It’s that fluid yet deadly interplay of objects with the human as if Hitler is so omnipresent he is looking at all Nazis under his command as well as the entire population of Europe through the ten eyes of each and every black telephone 1930s 1940s ubiuitous device par excellence “The sleepwalker’s all eyes” And in terms of using his eyes let's not forget Hitler spent many years dedicated to the visual arts drawing and painting as a near starving artist in ViennaReading the first section Steel in Motion I catch initial glimpses of the novel’s stunning historical references for example “Barrage balloons swim in the air finned and fat like children’s renderings” Bulls eye WTV Perfect simile; that’s exactly what those barrage balloons looked like balloon used by the British to defend against air attacks – the cables holding up the balloon would damage enemy aircraft“Steel imbued with the sleepwalker’s magic sight illuminates itself as it comes murdering Again Europe Central shares much with the photomontage of artists like Hannah Höch and John Heartfield a steely emphasis on the intertwining of humans with technologies for example another image of the octopus telephone “From the anus mouth behind the dial” Vollmann soaks the black gadget for all its worth telephone as the eyes and anus of Hitler Yet again another striking uote “Don’t trust any technicians who assure you that this brain is “neutral” – soon you’ll hear how angrily the receiver jitters in its cradle” The author picks up on Marshall McLuhan the media is the message It’s as if in Europe Central the gadgets and all that steel exude a life of their own and are manipulating humans as their flesh and blood pawns “Behind the wall rubberized black tentacles spread across Europe” Ominous ominous – 20th century technology as the strangling octopus throttling choking crushing humans as if a school of helpless little fish in an ocean of unforgiving tentaclesThen in the section entitled The Saviors A Kabbalistic Tale the author uses Aristotelian compare and contrast in presenting Fanya Kaplan with NKKrupskaya two women who saw themselves as good Marxist comrades marching shoulder to shoulder with other like minded comrades toward the land of final synthesis as in Hegel turned on his head thesis antithesis synthesis And age twenty eight special for both Ks Kaplan and Krupskaya since Krupskaya at age twenty eight married Lenin and Kaplan at age twenty eight shot him And each woman as per vintage photos were stunning as a twenty year old but oh my goodness did women age uickly back then especially when sent to prison or Siberia for years of hard labor NKKrupskaya At age twenty eight she married LeninFanya Kaplan At age twenty eight she shot LeninAnyway Vollmann packs in historical facts and lyrical images as if he were stuffing twenty five pounds of potatoes into a 10 pound sack for example we read the following of the last four days in Fanya Kaplan’s life after she shot Lenin “a huddle of twenty four grey subterranean hours like orphaned mice; and in the flesh of every hour a swarm of useless moments like ants whose ueen has perished; and within each moment an uncountable multitude of instants resembling starpointed syllables shaken out of words If you were counting that’s three tightly packed in similes I read a Paris Review interview where Vollmann relates how at one time in his life he was writing sixteen hours a day Now that’s a writer on fire and perhaps on cocaine speed or at least caffeineFor the narrator of Europe Central people stand tall like a certain letter of the alphabet ideas glow like a letter words hum like a letter which reminds me of that Georges Perec uote “Is the aleph that place in Borges from which the entire world is visible simultaneously anything other than an alphabet?” And these Europe Central times are times for men and women of action as in the action packed words of Comrade N V Krylenko “We must execute not only the guilty Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even ” Ironically Comrade Krylenko would himself be shot – I wonder if the masses were impressedHowever nobody could ever doubt Comrade Krylenko was a revolutionary who took his revolution seriously And eually ironic through all the revolutionary slaughter one of N K Krepskaya’s very favorite books was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women And there’s a scene of N K Krepskaya meeting Fanya Kaplan in a prison cell that provides a stroke of Latin American style magical realism Then the letters disappeared into the woman's mouth Krupskaya was speechless The woman began to glow and until the light from her was as white and pure as a page of the TorahOne of my favorite parts of the novel is all the references to Dimitri Shostakovich and his music For example “Best listened to in a windowless room better than best an airless room – correctly speaking a bunker sealed forever and enwrapped in tree roots – the Eighth String uartet of Shostakovich Opus 110 is the living corpse of music perfect in its horror Call it the simultaneous asphyxiation and bleeding of melody” To gain a keener insight and feeling for this novel I listened to this and other Shostakovich string uartets repeatedly during my reading All in all a great novel but I must say not a novel exactly to my taste since I found for one thing the shifting first person narrator who at points could be the voice of the entire continent of Europe at a huge emotional distance from the other characters I contrast this with another 800 page novel set in Europe and Russia during WWII The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell a novel where the first person narrator was a member of the Nazi SS The evil of Littell's novel is so real so immediate so powerful I had to listen to the audiobook while taking my walks and let the evil run down my legs and out the bottom of my feet Europe Central is an encyclopedic literary monument to an incredible time in 20th century European history but for me Vollmann’s novel lacks the power of Littell’sWilliam T Vollmann


  2. says:

    Thank You Bill for Another God Almighty TomeAn Interpolation Upon an Enuiry by Steven MooreNow it’s for saleDon’t be deterredThis thousand page Half million word War effort hadTo be contrivedIn breath takingLarge scale detailSo it could beDesired asA maximal Unholy grail We college gradsAnd desk bound malesNow type awayInside the whaleSo that we canAll adulateThe moral scope Of Vollmann's taleHence we honourIts mighty lengthAnd shower itWith lavish praise A Novel Calculus Europe Central followed closely on the heels of Rising Up and Rising Down Vollmann's analysis of the moral calculus of violencePart of the non fiction work applied the calculus to the specific circumstances of several persons of interestThis novel assuming that is a correct descriptor takes real life peopleparticipants and uses them to construct a narrative about real life events most of which are the most pivotal events of the twentieth centuryIt is a huge and hugely ambitious creative and interpretative exercise if not necessarily or strictly only an exercise in fictionIt has in common with a documentary re enactment than most literary fiction Like a documentary we might know some or all of the facts what matters is how the issues are personalised and presented to us I suppose that when one dedicates oneself sincerely enough to anything one personalises itYou can think of this novel as a panoramic film in full technicolorNone of this is intended as a criticism If there is any meaningful role for Post Modernism one would be to blur the distinction between fiction and realityFictionalised HistoryThe historical aspects of the novel are thoroughly researched by Vollmann and his assistants shades of Andy Warhol? and therefore presumably reliable except where he identifies otherwise in the notes and comments or where he allows himself the freedom of historical or moral judgementYou don't need to have much or any prior knowledge of the events portrayed in the novel to appreciate their significance or the writing Vollmann places us in the heart of the relevant action All we have to respect is the importance of these events in world history If there ever comes a time when their primacy fades may the gods help civilisation on earthThat said in the fictional aspects of the reconstruction Vollmann can't help but inject a few of his own preoccupations against the historical evidence and it is here that the novel is weakest and occasionally most gratuitous but of that later It is a relatively minor personal gripe and one that didn't ultimately detract from my enjoyment of the novelDoppelgänger States Non Fraternal Non Identical TwinsThe narrative structure of Europe Central explores a parallelism between World War II Germany and the Soviet UnionPretty soon you realise that there is little difference in the social and personal dynamics in each nation despite their vastly different socio political systems Ultimately they are both  well ordered zones Centralised power works the same way everywhere Vollmann recognises that this point has already been made by Vassily Grossman in his novel  Life and FateHitlerStalin wield absolute power with limited input by those around them Nobody is prepared to uestion or contradict them for fear of reprisal and reprisal means death In the case of Germany Fate has sent Germany a great genius Adolf Hitler We must obey his willIn the case of Stalin It's not enough to love Soviet power Soviet power must also love youHitlerStalin take ultimate responsibility for everything Vision strategy tactics execution Especially executionGargantuan and Panzercruel StruggleOnce Hitler revoked the Non Aggression Pact in June 1941 Germany and the Soviet Union were destined to fight to the death if not with the assistance of allies then alone The success of one state and political system would inevitably mean the extinguishment of the otherGermany had conuered most of continental Europe Britain was under attack The United States had not entered the warChurchill was reluctant to start a new western front on the continent forcing Stalin to fight off Hitler without support If Germany had prevailed it would have meant the end of Communism However if the Soviet Union could prevail it would mean the end of Fascism The Anglo American nations thought they could sit back and wait for the resultCapitalism Tries to Crash the PartyOnly when Stalin got the upper hand at Stalingrad and started the march to Berlin did the Allies realise that they would lose Europe to Soviet Communism if they didn't initiate Operation Overlord at Normandy The Soviets have a Motherland and the Germans have a Fatherland Their child is Europe CentralCommunism in Europe would have meant the loss of a market for Anglo American goods and services on the continent Normandy occurred only when it became necessary to protect capitalist interestsThus Normandy wasn't primarily one part of a two pronged attack on Germany but a preemptive attempt to avoid the global revolution that might have resulted from the successful self defence of the Soviet UnionFirelit RaptureVollmann personalises the moral issues by focussing on the lives and dilemmas of a number of key players on both sides of the ideological divide Ironically both Fascism and Communism purported to usher in a new cultural era one which in the words of Heidegger would reuire the old to be burned in order to make way for the new The Volk the People the Proletariat looked on in firelit raptureVollmann explains the moral purpose of the novel in terms of parable These stories are not as rigorously grounded in historical fact as my 'Seven Dreams' books Rather the goal here was to write a series of parables about famous infamous and anonymous European moral actors at moments of decision Some of the protagonists are military others are creative musicians sculptors poets and translatorsUnder both ideologies individual freedom is compromised ostensibly in the interests of the collective This might be understandable in the context of the war effort or attempts to defend against a civil war or rebuff a counter revolution However arguably it would not be tolerable in a modern western pluralistic democracy during a time of peaceAnswering the CallVollmann uses the black cabled tentacles of the cephalopodic telephone network not just as a vehicle for communication but as a symbol of the centralisation of political culture and the enforcement of social conformityTotalitarianism emphasises collective duty at the expense of personal liberty Vollmann speculates that people start to content themselves with the role of servant rather than aspiring to be their own master To regard the fulfillment of duty rather than personal responsibility as the highest virtue indicates a primal need for yielding oneself upIn the armed forces there are command structures that ensure that obedience to authority occurs subject now to the rejection of the Nuremberg defence Civilians are safe as long as they keep their head down and don't transgressHowever intellectuals and artists are the most problematical They tend to be individualistic and non conformist Vollmann shows us two cultures and contexts in which individualists must bow to the collective or face dire conseuences Thus we see Socialist Realism being imposed in the Soviet Union while in Germany we see the Nazis attacking Degenerate Art At least in wartime outliers are pulled back into the herd Those who won't or don't comply are ostracised abandoned exiled andor liuidatedShostakovich's Threat to Cultural HarmonyRepresentative of the creative dilemma is the composer Shostakovich In the absence of words you would think that music would be harder to judge in terms of ideological conformity However Shostakovich's formal innovation sees him described as a selfish and anti democratic individualist a free spirit a formalist a revisionist a right wing deviationist This gets to the root of what makes intellectuals dangerous We use them to add newness to life which is what keeps it bearable but newness shouldn't mutate into utter alienationDespite his popularity with the public Shostakovich becomes alienated from authority He fails to toe the Party line He is seen as preoccupied with the expression of self His compositions are out of harmony with the remainder of the Party credentialled fraternity His works are doubly dissonant and disharmoniousWhistle Blower to the HolocaustOne of the German parallels to Shostakovich is the SS officer Kurt Gerstein a technician who leaks to the Church and the Swiss Consul evidence of the methods of the Holocaust that he is partly responsible for administering It's not disclosed just how much reliable intelligence the West acuired about the Holocaust before the end of the War Whatever the West took no credible action Gerstein's whistle blowing attempts weren't appreciated and tragically for him did not avoid the death penalty being imposed on him by the AlliesImaginary Love TrianglesPerhaps Vollmann's greatest creative contribution to the historical narrative is his extrapolation of the sex lives of several of the protagonists In most cases he acknowledges that his speculation is pure fiction Indeed he posits that the key emotional and sexual relationship between Shostakovich and Elena continued throughout the rest of their lives notwithstanding common ground that it lasted only for a short period relatively early in their livesDespite the amount of space devoted to Shostakovich I think Elena is the pre eminent character of the novel In many ways Europe Central is the story of a woman if not the women of Europe Europa ist Elena überhaupt She is one third of two separate love triangles one a heterosexual relationship with two males and the other a lesbian relationship with two womenVollmann's women occupy numerous roles they oscillate between Joan of Arc virgin whore artist activist translator partisan judge and executioner Do you ever feel that there's a woman somewhere at the centre of things a goddess?Men are trapped in their world of power and aggression Vollmann represents women as some kind of way out a pathway to individual authenticity His design for the novel might even be similar to Shostakovich's perception of his music It's abouthow love could have been if the world weren't full of vile thingsI sometimes feel that my love for her is the only thing that's genuine about meLove and DeathThis exploration of love as well as tenderness balances the overwhelming detail about the war in the novelHowever it also contributes a nuanced tone to Vollmann's normal subject matter and styleOf course Vollmann being Vollmann he occasionally goes overboard in how he deals with the sexual subject matter At times it just seemed to be gratuitous For example I couldn't work out how uite explicit private acts between the protagonists could be related by the voyeuristic agent Comrade Alexandrov even though as far as I could determine he can't possibly have witnessed them I assume he wasn't just sexing up the security filesStill my concerns about this aspect of the writing didn't detract from the substance of the novel my enjoyment of it or a sense that it deserved both the National Book Award and five starsDon't let the war setting or the length of the novel deter you This is one of the great novels about the twentieth centuryADDED EXTRASAbandoned Draft First ParagraphEven then there was something about the nameless Asian girl Ah Kum Elena which rendered her an object of respect obsessive desire A young girl with jet black reddish blonde bangs it was she who returned his wallet manhood to him In the hallway of their apartment building he kissed her cheeks lips nipples He wanted to tell her that her earlobes breasts were as white and sweet as saccharin Viasma gingerbread Minutes later in her bedroom his manhood love agony and strangely erotic pain detonated inside her him Something came alive in the next room It was her the suat black mother phone suid octopus The god of the Signal CorpsTischfernsprecher Schwarzes BakelitgehäuseApologies to Van MorrisonWilliam we were downOn our knees in the daysBefore rock and rollhttpswwwyoutubecomwatch?va2GpETreaty of VersaillesA vindictive peaceMakes for an even worse warThe next time aroundIron GripThe dictator ofA state under siege grips itLike a drowning manSoldier with a CameraOne can representUs all just as well as theWhole contains the oneLust in TranslationYou mustn't DesistFor I insistThat you'll be WitchedBy thisFunnyCunni LinguisticTrystBetwixtLina andElenaGender CentralVera Lina Nina ElenaEurope is womanDelicious as gingerbreadJust like ElenaZoyaRussia was ZoyaBetween the breasts of ZoyaIt won its freedomPost Modern Self Assessment by the AuthorYou besmirch yourselfWith ugly behavior thenSpeak beautiful wordsExegesisBasic formatNice exampleOf uotationFollowed by anExplanationLeading to someExcitationAnd a starryIncantationRounded off withAnnotationFootnote endnoteIbid op citUnd so weiterBill Vollmann Interviewed by Tony Dushane for Bookslut You know in 'Europe Central' it’s too easy just to say 'Oh the Nazis were terrible the Stalinists were awful' And that’s true but where do you go from there? If you can realize the deeper truth which is not only that were they terrible but if I were born in that time and place I probably would’ve been one And even if I resisted with all my being I would still have characteristics of one no matter what I didhttpwwwbookslutcomfeatures2005Fanya Kaplán's attempt to assassin Lenin on August 30 1918 Ihttpswwwyoutubecomwatch?vdIfl1Fanny was executed without trial on September 3 1918Fanya Kaplán's attempt to assassin Lenin IIhttpswwwyoutubecomwatch?vtDpiXCreated by 1618 Films at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2007Fanya Kaplán's attempt to assassin Lenin IIIhttpswwwyoutubecomwatch?v9eiNPGerman anti war artist Käthe Kollwitzhttpdearkitty1wordpresscom2014The Execution of ZoyaVollmann or his grubby voyeuristic amanuensis Comrade Alexandrov describes this photo of Zoya after her hanging as one which presents to us her naked corpse in the snow her head arched back as if in sexual ecstasySOUNDTRACKKeith Jarrett Prelude and Fugue No 7 in A major Dmitri Shostakovich


  3. says:

    The majority of my symphonies are tombstones ― Dmitry Shostakovich in William T Vollmann Europe Central We have a Motherland and they have a Fatherland Their child is Europe Central― William T Vollmann Europe CentralThis book THIS book This book reminds me of some mad Nazi experiment or Soviet torture grafting the madness of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and the darkness of Littell's The Kindly Ones From the first chapter it grabs you grotesuely by the balls and just won't let go Vollmann wants to hear you scream and then wants to write the score of your scream the ghost notes of your warped night tremors The spine the backbone of this novel is woven the lifestoriesstutters of Dmitry Shostakovich yes THAT Shostakovich writing his opus of lust his opus of war his opus of death Fighting passively always passively against the crushing weight of Soviet oppression The the institution would grind on him push him down the his art would suirt out Art finds a way There is the love triangle between Shostakovich and Elena Konstantinovskaya and Roman Karmen This is Vollmann bending history to fit his novel He isn't trying for close He isn't aiming for clarity He is composing with this novel He is grooving The way I floated with this novel was to imagine it as a giant expressionist painting with Shostakovich in the center or perhaps a symphony or musical development? Others have said yes so I'd recommending reading their reviews if you prefer a symphony to an expressionist painting It is full of demons and parables Full of Totenkopfverbändes decorated with rubies snow skeletons zombies bombs and planes There are mass graves and one can get uickly lost in death and the cold There is a certain direction only because time and history both have a direction to the painting It is scrolling left to right But reading Vollmann is not a journey of art It is a dream a nightmare It is a primal scream trying to clear out the cobwebs of the 20th century It is Hieronymus Bosch's Purgatory Hell and all three panels of the triptych Garden of Earthly Delights sewn together with teeth hair and cobwebs and repainted by a German Expressionist or Soviet nonconformist artist'Europe Central' isn't history but history isn't history When so many people were killed buried burned we lose all sense of identity and truth In Central EuropeEurope Central during that period right before during and after WWII myth seems almost as appropriate as any official history The demons that whistle to you at night are just as convincing as the frozen chickens of dayAgain I'm trying to wrap my head around it all It is crazy I am crazy Two of the uotes from the book that helped me the most were According to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia our planet's most pronounced topographical features compromise an approximate mirror image of the crust's underside The steppes of the Ukraine thus roof the crating platforms which replicates them while the Ural Mountains not only project into the sky but in eual measure stab down like gabblers trained upon the magma on which our contest uneasily slither To me the thought that this world is doubled within its own red liuid hell is a profoundly unnerving one Chaos seethes beneath my feet page 694 “Most literary critics agree that fiction cannot be reduced to mere falsehood Well crafted protagonists come to life pornography causes orgasms and the pretense that life is what we want it to be may conceivably bring about the desired condition Hence religious parables socialist realism Nazi propaganda And if this story likewise crawls with reactionary supernaturalism that might be because its author longs to see letters scuttling across ceilings cautiously beginning to reify themselves into angels For if they could only do that then why not us?” 27 I will end this now before I get swallowed up again by Vollmann's Airlift Idylls and Steel in Motion one time and fail to find my way to the surface again


  4. says:

    455If you have no interest at all in learning massive amounts about World War II this book is not for you As a matter of fact if you are not in the mood for facts and uotations and references galore packaged in a semi short story fashion refer to the previous statement However if you are alright with that sort of thing you are in for a treatI will admit I panicked a little bit once I realized how jam packed this book is with historical trivia As if that wasn't intimidating enough the writing loves its metaphors and imagery and often descends into extended fantastical meanderings Lots of eagles and octupuses and letters formed in physical settings It was definitely overwhelming at the beginning and contributed to the lengthy amount of time I took to finish the bookWhat helped me get my bearings and start to enjoy the book was the decision to interpret the phantasmagoric uality to the writing as the author's effort to convey just how crazy this time was I have no idea if that's what the author intended but it seemed to work In fact a prime example of this is the map insert at the beginning which consists of an outline of Europe covered in names of military operations as well as nearly nonsensical warlike doodles The further you get in the book the ridiculously brutal the events become especially during the parts concerning Shostakovich He of all the characters most clearly comprehends the menace that surrounds everyone but importantly he understands that despite objections to the contrary none of it makes any sense And it never willThroughout the book there are a number of characters whose morals are challenged who are forced into compromising situations and decisions by the murderous chaos surrounding them Some of them like the Berlin sleepwalker are thought by many to have a hand in the chaos but they are in truth just as trapped by historical events as the rest of them The only difference is their position and how willing they are to disengage from reality in order to do what needs to be done If this doesn't makes sense to those who wish to know the sleepwalker is view spoilerHitler hide spoiler


  5. says:

    Recommended for Vollmanniacs music history lovers The majority of my symphonies are tombstones D D Shostakovich Europe Central is Vollmann's imaginative take on 20th century's twin evils of Stalinism Nazism as witnessed during the horrific years of the second world war A book that wraps itself in Kabbalah mysticism Germanic myths legends; is not your 'typical' history book – for starters you don't get to hate Hitler Most people will stop reading after the chapter Opus 40 wondering is this about the war or musical themes Brace yourself there's also full dissection of Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony it all makes thematic sense cause this is a book where war sometimes is presented in musical terms music in martial ones – Hitler after all presents himself as a Wagnerian hero the final evocation of Opus 110 brings into sharp focus perhaps the main thesis that in a repressive brutal totalitarian regime; Art maybe shaped defined by the circumstances but ultimately great art transcends it thus while dictators like Stalin Hitler have rightly been consigned to the dustbins of history Shostakovich's music lives on Europe Central will give readers a new understanding into this genius composer's work to me that's the single biggest achievement of this book The narrative gives broad brush strokes of general state of affairs in both USSR Germany then zooms in on key personages to highlight those concerns — so you get German Jewish artist Käthe Kollwitz whose work is exploited by the communists for propaganda purpose poetess Anna Akhmatova an aloof manneuin That was how we liked her Unfortunately her presence electrified any crowd To me this proves that we hadn't been sufficiently strict with her An aloof manneuin she might have been as still as water under ice but our task was to freeze her solid in this we never succeeded after all Akhmatova was the poet of Reuiem which I'm sorry to say I've heard on the lips of students prisoners prostitutes peasants and kerchiefed factory women and of course Shostakovich whom the Soviet State willy nilly made toe the official line but whose work remained subversive for those who had the ears to hear it Think of the condition of dissidents in China the situation in Syria you'll get a faint idea of what life under Soviet communism and German fascism could be like Almost makes one grateful for democracy There's a wealth of war trivia details to warm the heart of any student of military science but what's remarkable is the presentation of it — juxtaposes the war narratives of both sides lets the readers see how similar General Vlasov Field Marshal Paulus' moral predicaments are — their ill clad ill euipped starving men dying because their megalomaniac leaders won't allow a retreat In olden times wars were waged by heroes who admired one another but found themselves forced by fate or blood revenge to do each other harm In our time we fought for hateful ogres against other ogres eually hateful From a practical point of view can't it be argued that nothing has changed? Balance Stalin's 'Great Purge' the 'Red Terror' his Siberian retreats called the 'Gulags' his NKVD orchestrated sudden 'disappearance' of members of intelligentsia in Black Marias the mass graves Collectivization – against Hitler's sleepwalking an entire generation of Germans into the abyss of madness the 'Final Solution'— and it's hard to say who's the bigger monster – the writer rightly lets History judge themAs he says in his bookslut interview You know in Europe Central it’s too easy just to say Oh the Nazis were terrible the Stalinists were awful And that’s true but where do you go from there? If you can realize the deeper truth which is not only that were they terrible but if I were born in that time and place I probably would’ve been one And even if I resisted with all my being I would still have characteristics of one no matter what I did So if you were born in the third Reich and all you ever heard was that Germany was the greatest and the Jews were very dangerous and poisonous and Slavs were inferior and this and that maybe you could if you were really compassionate and brave throw some of that off But deep down you would probably still feel somewhat good about Germany You know you would still think oh Germany is a really progressive place and probably the rest of the world is a little primitive That’s probably the best you could do Vollmann's narrative choice here is very interesting — sometimes impressionistic sometimes surreal the narratives overlap – the Russian narrator Comrade Alexandrov reminded me of the intelligence guy in Lives of Others do watch it but the German narrator was the tricky one a shape shifter a myth a ghost a Pynchonesue figure yes there's a rocket— the narration altered so seamlessly from one to the other that you don't realize when it turned omniscient when dear MrVollmann chipped in Any book on literary fiction worth its salt would tell you to pay attention to what comes in the middle the heart of a book so to speak— the Holocaust comes in the middle in EC — but Vollmann doesn't go for your tear ducts there's no sensationalising or cheapening of this tragedy — a few brutal sentences here there you get the picture This is my first Vollmann Two of my fav writers— Graham Greene Joseph Conrad are hugely political but whereas Greene's world weariness is relieved by his humour Conrad's dominated by his moral vision — I don't remember laughing while reading Europe Central maybe a chuckle here there but that's about it — Vollmann is so deadly earnest he refuses to judge even though EC was written as a series of parables about famous infamous and anonymous European moral actors at moments of decision Also don't get me started about the 'repetitions' after a while I stopped counting the line Elena you're lucky you didn't marry me Maybe he used it as a leitmotifVollmann turned Shostakovich into such a neurotic that at times I wondered if I was reading about Woody Allen The second half of the book runs at breakneck speed covering too much ground – the division of Germany political reprisals in East Germany the Iron Curtain the Berlin Wall ending with the start of the Cold War – it's a huge canvas Give this book proper time attention If I've to recommend it to someone I'd ask them to read the five paged Zoya chapter or the 50 pages Kurt Gerstein one called Clean Hands In fact there are so many powerful chapters here – the last two chapters Lost Victories the loser's need for postmortem The White Nights of Leningrad where Vollmann the artist takes over it's so visually stunning remain in the mind long after the book is closed My interest in Vollmann was piued when I read in an article that he made DFW insecure that the latter envied his prolific output Wallace was constrained by his agoraphobia whereas Vollmann has always gone to the source of his inspiration – the Arctic the druggies the prostitutes May the wellspring of his inspiration never run dry And now your reward for reading this loooong review Feast your eyes on the chthonic heavenly visage of WTV Links for Europe Central NYT review Bookslut interview Empathy for the Devil More Tender But No Less Ambitious William T Vollmann Opens a New Chapter in His Already Prolific Career With Europe Central | Balti City Paper Featured Author series on NYT William T Vollman The New York Times Book Review Contains discussion of most of his books A must readhttpwwwnytimescomindexes20040 WTV's profile on NYThttpwwwnytimescom19940206boo The moral euation of Stalinism with Hitlerism is nothing new V Grossman made that best in his novel Life and Fate Here it's merely a point of departure From Vollmann's notes on EC


  6. says:

    This is a rewarding read about the conflict between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin over the fate of Europe in World War 2 told from the perspective of a broad set of emblematic characters As pointed out in the excellent review by Ian Vollmann carries over in this novel his deep concerns with the moral calculus behind violence as explored in his non fiction work preceding this “Rising Up and Rising Down” The central characters and their major concerns include Dmitri Shastakovich a Russian classical composer who struggles with freedom of expression under the repressive Soviet regime is inspired by an abiding love for a mistress he had in the mid 30s Elena whose incursion on their marriage wife Nina tolerated for the greater good and wavers between producing “program” music to please Stalin’s enforcers such as his Seventh Symphony’s representation of the defeat of the Fascist armies at the Siege of Leningrad and the abstract pieces that capture for him the angst and suffering of life in these times which tend to get denounced for decadent formalism Like the poet Akhmatova who also was at the Siege of Leningrad Shastakovich was credited with inspiring the hope and resilience of the city and the world beyond to resist the onslaught of the Fascist war machine Roman Karmen a photojournalist and creator of film documentaries used for Soviet propaganda who despite being a loyal Communist Party member is brave energetic and cheerful about life; although he was married to Dmitri’s love Elena for a period he works well with Dmitri on some film projects This soldier with a camera went to the most dangerous battles to document the war with the Nazis and loved capturing the common people in documentaries before and after the war; first to film the liberation of a concentration camp Kathe Kollwitz a German socialist artist who lost much of her family in World War 1 and achieved admiration for her portraits of ravaged or starving women and children both in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union Kollwitz drawing from 1934 Death Seizing a Woman Kollwitz self portrait Andrei Vlasov one of the key commanding generals for Soviet forces at the successful defense of Moscow in 1941 but after being imprisoned by the Germans after the defeat of his forces in the attempt to break the Siege of Leningrad in Spring 1942 he collaborated with Nazi efforts to create an anti Bolshevik revolt within the Red Army; eventually executed by the Soviets after the war for treason Friedrich Paulus a German general in command of the Sixth Army at the Siege of Stalingrad in 1942 43 whose Axis forces of Wehrmacht and Romanian solders were ordered by Hitler to fight to the last man; they sustained losses of about 250000 before the remaining 90000 soldiers and volunteers were captured most of which dies in Siberian labor camps; Paulus was named Field Marshal on the day of his capture as a reward for his expected suicide but his Catholicism forbade that and he lived on eventually supporting an anti Fascist group among imprisoned German officers and testifying against key Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials An emaciated General Paulus trying to maintain dignity at the time of capture at Stalingrad the turning point toward defeat of Nazi Germany; the 5 month battle led to 11 million casualties for the Soviets and about 800000 for the Axis forces Kurt Gerstein a junior SS officer and assistant to Eichmann’s implementation officer for the Final Solution who worked as a liaison to deliver and monitor effectiveness of prussic acid and Zyklon B poisons at the Jewish death camps; as one who suffered at the extermination of a sister in law as a mentally defective and a Christian he mentally assumed the role as a “spy for God” seeing himself as keeping his hand clean while collecting evidence of the evil plan but he failed to get various ministers or foreign consuls to convey that knowledge effectively to significant powers Hilde Benjamin aka the “Red Guillotine” a judge in East Germany after the war who pronounced the death sentence on many a political prisoner charged as an enemy of the proletarian communist cause; her vengeful attitude reflected her persecution as a German socialist during the war and the death of her Jewish husband in prisonYou can see from this range of characters how much the scope and moral dimensions of the war could be covered from a narrative of their actions and personal lives The challenge and the exhilaration of reading their stories comes from the radical modes of presentation used by Vollmann He bounces in and out of viewpoints sometimes slipping between first and third person from the subject’s mind between first person present or past tense from an anonymous observer or friend and periodically coming out of the page to either an anonymous omniscient frame or as Vollmann himself Some sections are fairly linear in time but often there is foreshadowing and fracturing of the temporal seuencing In a few sections there is hallucinatory drift as the many metaphors take over In one section the whole war is compressed in mind of Hitler whom he calls the sleepwalker throughout who perceives the history of the Third Reich as fulfilling the German myths portrayed in Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas In a section on the Battle of Kurst the largest tank battle in history we get a cartoon like presentation of a telephone communications soldier riding on and on as all of his friends with the Panzers are lost step by step until it is just him and an old one legged mystical volunteer are left advancing undaunted on foot with no ammunition Vollmann characterizes what he is writing as parables not as any attempt at reconstructing actual events He gives plenty of references to most events in the book but in the case of the idealized lasting love between Dmitri and Elena he admits to complete fabrication He saw Europe as a woman Europa in myth and Elena as an emblem for her He oddly portrayed her as bisexual which in a coda at the end of the book he justified as an attempt to make her universally beloved He acknowledges the wonderful novel “Life and Fate” by Vasily Grossman for most effectively demonstrating the “moral euation of Stalinism and Hitlerism” claiming the concept to be his starting point An elusive theme in the book concerns the role of the telephone in shaping the modern mentality and facilitating the extension of totalitarian control Characters like Shastakovich are continually paranoid over state police listening on the line The course of action of whole armies can be changed with an order from Hitler or Stalin’s headuarters Words and letters also often played with for special significance For example the German word for secret Gehern freuently will suddenly obscure written speech After an early section of the book where Lenin’s wife draws out the radical Jewish woman who inflicted a wound which will eventually kill her husband Vollman accounts for bringing perspectives of the mystical Kabbalah into his writing as follows And if this story crawls with reactionary supernaturalism that might be because the author longs to set letters swelling across ceilings cautiously beginning to reify themselves into angels For if they could do that why not us?By far the largest set of metaphors employed throughout this book are musical in nature Shostakovich tried to capture the horrors of war and repression as well as the redemption and hope of love in his compositions Thus whenever we as readers are treated to his stream of consciousness any sound or rhythm from the world are constantly being transmuted into scoring of notes and instruments in a particular key or tempo whether the moans or movements of lovemaking the knock of the secret police at the door the scream of the tortured or bludgeoned or the clank of a tank or blasts of an antiaircraft gun But in other sections the characters experiencing such sounds often are reminded of musical forms too in many cases because they all have heard his transmutations or that of Wagner; alternatively Vollmann intervenes to say Shastokovich will use the sound in his future work And most often the piece that is projected to capture the whole epoch is his Opus 110 String uartet # 8 completed in 1960 Somehow he believed he could counter the evil in the world with his music I have to admit I am a musical ignoramus and I can only feel a glimmer of what is supposed to be distilled there when I listen to it on YouTubeVollmann’s prime hero here gets the foreground towards the end of the novel He is often accused of self indulgent excess the only one I read “The Dying Grass” about the US Army’s chase of Nez Perce Chief Joseph was 1200 pages long However despite my deficient musical perception I loved the compression of the book’s themes and the whole cataclysm of the war into his imagined construction of his Opus 110 by the composer Here are some samples At this point the music expands and expands breaking out of Leningrad’s concentric rings of death but there is neither joy in it or even escape; it expands like an ascending aerial view of Dresden’s roofless windowlessness and immense fishbones half untoothed combs upon blinding white rubble gravel window holed brickfronts shattered into runes and swastikas And whenever there’s any beauty at all in Opus 110 it’s dismembered; it drips with death like shitty guts hanging out of a woman’s marble white torso this perish all enemies of Hitler and Stalin’s power And death oozes out of the silences between notes too the silences ofsecret Nazi documents Geheim the eight beat rest which hung between himself and Maxim when the boy confessed to having denounced him at school Some notes of Opus 110 get coffined up in chords while others solo coffinless become Leningraders falling one by one into the snow to dieAs for the rhythm if you’ve ever been present when our Blackshirts in Berlin or their NKVD cadres in Leningrad are beating enemies of the people you’ll know how it is the screams alternating with gasps What’s that sound? That’s the allegro moltoAnd Shostakovich entering the negative spaces beneath the piano’s black keys at last extends his front line beyond music into a perfect hell where his life dekulakization and Operation Barbarossa become oneEven for the hungry mind tucked in hereview spoilerNever mind the second movement when he really opens up with his eighty eightsWe fly high fine but we don’t know to shut off the X ray beams which shine right through the earth to illuminate the mangled tortured skeletons; we close our eyes but can’t stop seeing right through our eyelids They called him a formalist but he was really a classicist Let’s call that mistake pure comedy Anyhow Shoshtakovich’s music always flitters from one mood to another with incredible rapidity which is to say that he’s unstable What’s that sound? A uotation from the traditional Russian song “Languishing in Prison” illuminates the airless chamber of the uartet with history’s glare but not brightly enough to show us whose prison or cyanide bath it must be other than his In Opus 110 nothing completes itself before perishing it reminds us that DD Shoshtakovich is dying with his eyes open He knows what happiness is He knows that he’ll never possess it In our time life will be so to speak JOYFUL The walls will grow higher; the Fifth Symphony will end with hordes of perfidiously bristling bug legged notes and chords strung on the music paper’s barbed wire; Opus 110 will scream like invalids in a burning hospital What is it that those idiots always say about Zoya? Not long but beautifully did she live 18 year old woman hung by the Nazi’s for burning a stable before the advance of their army toward Moscow lionized for stating before death “You can’t hang all one hundred ninety million of us”Life’s a transfer prison Sunlight between two darknesses isn’t sunlight at all; it’s central Europe herself which is to say that it’s the fourth movement’s largo which manages to convey the atmosphere of sickening expectation which overhung Shoshtakovich in this period; and that feeling is abstracted and generalized to include the naked women standing on a dirt ledge facing the hill so they won’t have to see the pit of white corpses and black blood in which they’ll soon lie for across that pit two soldiers are feeding a new clip into the machine gun waiting for the field telephone to ring Once we learn the story Estonian Jews life alters—doesn’t it? Violin viola cello violin What’s that sound? Shoshtakocih becomes every victim; trembling silently staring at Nina’s black round telephone face with its perfectly round holes he writes music which holds its breath striving not to scream and scream Opus 110 is no progression only a prison and the prisoner one DD Shoshtakovich has now paced the walls right back to his starting point He’s at the center of the world you see The center of the world is Leningrad which is Stalingrad which is Auschwitz Every place leads here Hence Opus 110’s horror as intimate as the throat slime of music the strings dripping with bitterness and hate hide spoiler


  7. says:

    ”All magic spells fail without belief We enforced belief” Europe Central is another monstrous book from Vollmann; monstrous in size content language implications critiue of humanity world historical analysis Let’s get something out of the way at the outset This book is a masterpiece horrifying painfully beautiful profound; if you’re a writer you wish you could have written this; and no one could have written this book in these early years of the 21st century except Vollmann In many ways it contains everything Vollmann was working through in his career up to this point The Seven Dreams are here Rising Up and Rising Down is here and most especially You Bright and Risen Angels is here I was going to attempt an abstract that tried to situate EC as the missing second half of YBaRA but that never came to fruition; it’s not like I’m getting paid for my time here; I’ve got other concerns There was a recent discussion with a certain other Vollmanniac about “early” “middle” and “late” Vollmann if distinctions such as these need or could be made at this point and the conclusion Vollmanniac #1 came to is that everything before The Ice Shirt is “early” Vollmann and Imperial signified the beginning of “late” Vollmann need I say that by definition everything in between would be considered “middle”? Well then Europe Central from 2005 can be seen as the node of transition out of “middle” and into “late” Vollmann This thesis makes itself clear to me in the confidence knife edged clarity control precision and strange to say in a book this massive and yes excessive economy of the language employed to tell the stories told here Vollmann’s prose in EC is absolutely mastered; not unwieldy not frivolous; and for all the digressions into surrealistic imagery impressionism dreamlandscapes worlds of the phantasmic dead sexualized nightmare visions hypnagogic fire eaten rubble of war wasted cities this book feels absolutely and appropriately “composed”One of the most interesting uestions one should ask about Europe Central is just who is narrating this beast? Comrade Alexandrov? The Stasi? A Dreamer of History? And who might that be? A Sleepwalker? A Realist? Shostakovich? Gerstein? Paulus? Vlasov? Hilde Benjamin who is the Law? Totalitarian Ideology? Time Unstuck Death where all souls commingle and whisper? Are we watching one of Roman Karmen’s films? All Of The Above? Reader of this review I am asking you to help me answer this uestionModeling its form on Danilo Kiš’s A Tomb For Boris Davidovich which if you haven’t read please to be correcting that oversight posthaste EC takes the structure of that book interrelated bursts of prose explicating the gruesome hypocrisies and corrupted reality of life under totalitarianism and war ranging in length from a few pages to the size of a healthy novella and as Vollmann tends to do maximalizes it expands that idea into infinity Oh another candidate for narrator of EC Infinity What we have then is a panoptic or panoramic view episodic and thus epic internal and external to these people who actually lived told in and outside of their voices filtered through a web of fear and ideological distortions wait another candidate for narrator Fear Warped Space Time rooted in historical event ”These stories are not as rigorously grounded in historical fact as my Seven Dreams books Rather the goal here was to write a series of parables about famous infamous and anonymous European moral actors at moments of decision Most of the characters in this book are real people I researched details of their lives as carefully as I could However this is a work of fiction Poetic justice has I hope been rendered both to them and to their historical situations” but ascending in widening gyres like a V Rocket and flame blooming into that Greatest Fiction that acts as superstructure to all succeeding fictions HistoryAnd thus the enigmatic voice of EC that shifting slithering metamorphosizing never static all static dead end of a blown out telephone receiver hissing demonic overtones the dopplering voice of time collapsing into itself as it passesAnother candidate for narrator of EC Moral Ambiguity in the Time of TerrorOr what does “survival” mean in a wolfhound age? We are shown all of these characters at moments of fatal choice when their epoch had become a mass murderer when ethics became a boot stamping on a human face forever and they were in various guises taken before the door of the Law and told “choose or die” These were days when music became the wavering pitch of a bomb’s descent and the atonal screaming of women and children burning Years when there was no great distinction between ruins of blood and bone and charred buildings This was a fairytale time when steel rivers began to creep throughout Europe Russia Africa and on eastward spreading flame and desolation How did this happen? When might this happen again? And what is it that makes human beings capable not only of composing beautiful books and paintings and symphonies but also of composing air raids and gas chambers and flamethrowers and panzer divisions and the heaven sent weeping strains of the music of the spheres can still be heard burning of Dresden or Guernica or Stalingrad? ”Dresden is Europe Central the walled kingdom in the middle of the past Every day here begins once upon a time ”The uniting thread of these stories might be threnody As sure as Shostakovich’s unkillable heart was hiding in the body of a destroyed piano Is he dead even today? We can hear the past in shards of music and fading photographs Europe Central might be an opera but its stage set is composed of the rubble of the real and its orchestra is performing interpretations of songs that are best not lost or forgotten among the wreckage of History


  8. says:

    Put down on p221 I hesitate to write any sort of review as I decided not to carry on which is rare for me I have not for this reason given it any stars So the uestion is why? WTV has got a lot of love from GR reviewers I respect greatly and the subject matter should be right up my alley Yet somehow I found myself growing increasingly irritated and continually thrown out from the text such that I uickly exhausted both my interest and my enjoyment I cannot review this book as I have not completed it However I can explain why I have put it down what it was in those pages which so vigorously rubbed me the wrong way To keep things short and simple I will just state the following 1 WTV has taken biographical information about some key and not so key characters from the period and inserted some invented elements of his owntaken uotes out of context etc This should not have irritated me as I have a fondness for fictionalised history and yet it did mainly because I knew the sources well enough to see where he had copied parts or invented things and as such it made it impossible for me to fully enter the text I was continually saying to myself wait that’s not right or feeling that the characterisation felt wrong I also felt that it was his additions that were problematic in their content and reflected of the author than the character For me what is interesting about writingreading historical fiction is trying to inhabit an entirely alien and impossibly Other's worldview and failing obviously much of the passages I read seemed not even to bother to try this is possibly an overly bitchy comment and not really deserved 2 I found the sex scenes and the detail of language used within them jarring I have no problem with the erotic it is just that it did not work in the context 3 The prose was at times fantastic but was also often clunky confused and as far as I am concerned in need of some editing This comes down to taste and of course just as with music the fact that I did not like the prose does not mean it is in any way objectively bad 4 I found his conclusionscommentsmetaphysical digressions trite and unoriginal and I am aware this is unfair as I only read a small portion of the novel and much was from the perspective of the characters This may be harsh and it may well be that that points 1 3 above meant I was much inclined to notice and be critical of this 5 Finally he references and was inspired by the work of Danilo Kiš DK is a master of precision and control and of the making new of the historical A Tomb for Boris Davidovich is fable like in its exactness in its meticulousness and concision EC is not From this reader's perspective WTV suffers from his own comparison in the same way as Lars von Trier did at the start of Antichrist when he dedicated the film to Tarkovsky However I must reiterate that all of the above is very much a personal response I respect the views of my fellow GR reviewers far too much to suggest that WTV is in any way a bad writer per se or that this book is not worth trying Nor has it put me off him in general I am likely to give both The Royal Family and Fathers and Crows a go at some point


  9. says:

    A Thunderous Urgency Rumbles Through this Novel How Murder Could Seem a MercyIn his 2005 National Book Award winning novel Vollmann alternates narratives between Nazi Germany and the former USSR via Shostakovich At a frenetic pace despite its over 800 pages he demonstrate how these bloody totalitarian regimes forced their citizens to make no win moral decisions Pure Evil appears to get much delight from splintering and destroying the innocent’s souls than in murdering their bodiesA chilling reminder of what time and fading history have somewhat obscured


  10. says:

    Europe Central William T Vollmann’s most popularly successful book 1280 gr ratings 165 reviews average starrage 388 conferrer of integrity upon the National Book Award for Fiction 2005 translated into German Italian Spanish French and Serbian not too badA few thoughts in my minor keyReading Europe Central after Vollmann’s newest book Last Stories presented a contrast in regard to anxiety in the face of Death In Last Stories Death has already passed and we no longer stand as being toward death Europe Central presents that very anxiety of being toward death ; it is also resigned thereto but in a humanly anxious manner There is a similar restraint of resignation in the two books perhaps because as history even in Europe Central Death has already come and gone Our capital ‘A’ Author is in Europe Central much less present than he is in most of Vollmann’s books In fact he is almost entirely absent removing himself in the name of his several Narrators There are few apologies here for how the tale how the stories how the plot might be going off the rails The plot itself I mean that about which this novel is about is itself the going off the rails This novel is historical fiction The emphasis as always must be upon ‘fiction’ Fiction is its own mode of truthful discourse and should not not ever be subsumed under the rubrics for truth as found in the historiographic discourses The two discourses are related as a chiasmus χ; historiography is narratively fictively structured and the fictional is always historically grounded at least in its temptation The task of this particular fictional discourse is the presentation of moral actors as moral actors in their situations ; a possibility which always makes fiction a moral fiction from the beginning Deviations from trivial bits of data the ‘historical record’ the archive are documented ; that’s how this reader knew that there are deviations In other words The fictionist must nothingAnd one thing a fictionist need not do is employ a capital ‘A’ Author as Narrator who might point out to the naive reader whether the lowercase ‘a’ author condemns or approbates the actions of a character That task is the reader’s task That is the moral task of novels God is dead And so is that authorAs a portrait gallery of moral actors Europe Central forms the fictive half of a diptych with the non fiction portrait gallery of moral actors Rising Up and Rising Down As a portrait gallery Europe Central has that feature common to all most encyclopedic novels in so far as it is far too short It ends but it is not complete or will never be complete There will always remain exactly so as is the case with Miss MacIntosh My Darling portraits to add to the gallery From my corner of the world I would submit that a novella about Dietrich Bonhoeffer or one featuring Rosa Luxemburg would expand this megalith further And those nearly absent but Central characters Lenin Stalin Hitler would they remain necessarily in the margins? Or Prokofiev Frank Zappa has been accused of saying that Talking about music is like dancing about architecture Zappa has been known to do a lot of dancing about architecture Let me say Vollmann not only writes about the music of Shostakovich not only does he lean towards the occasional musicalprose but he folds the music into his writing Europe Central is yet a different kind of Vollmann book All of his books most of his books many of his books take a different course a different tone and voice than do his other books It’s all still Vollmann But here in Europe Central his is almost absent; having handed over the baton to the narrator that familiar voice of Vollmann dissipates into an orientation regarding the material itself What I want to say One misses some of the hallucinogenic dreamcoursed surrealistic flights into weirdmetaphor and the like The War was brutal enough And yet there remain a few delicious passages of pure wandering consciousness such as the phantastical “Airlift Idylls” The structure? A novel built of collated stories One might sample them “Airlift Idylls” is one The magnificent “Opus 40” and “Opus 110” are to be recommended But do not hesitate to pick up that black telephone I mean octopus Europe Central is on the lineA few links from 2013 when the German translation was released view spoilerAuf Deutsch an interview with Bill translator Robin Detje and einem seiner größten Bewunderer dem deutschen Schriftsteller Clemens SetzDie ZeitApril 2013On the occasion of the release of the German editionWie schreibt man ein Meisterwerk? from Der SpiegelMammutroman Europe Central Das mörderische Jahrhundertvon Thomas Andre17 April 2013httpwwwspiegeldekulturliteratuReview from Frankfurter AllgemeineDas Stimmwunder aus Krieg und Diktaturvon Andreas Platthaus12 April 2013httpwwwfaznetaktuellfeuilletonAnother thing auf Deutsch hide spoiler