National Book Award, Fiction, 2005In this magnificent work of fiction, William T. Vollmann turns his trenchant eye to the authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the 20th century.
Assembling a composite portrait of these two warring 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 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.
©2005 William T. Vollmann; (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Throughout, Vollmann develops counternarratives to memorialize those millions who paid the penalties of history. Few American writers infuse their writing with similar urgency." (Publishers Weekly)
This is a very fine audio book - well read and engrossing. I have given it one less star than the ultimate because you cannot listen to a book like this will all the concentration necesary.
Long, sometimes repetative, often messmerizing - Europe Central tells the story of men and women caught up in the greatest struggle of the 20th century - the struggle of the individual to survive in a dictatorial world.
Each of the central characters are given his or her own section - book length parts - to tell thier stories. The Russian composer D. Shostakovich is the spine of the book. His story is a primer on how an artist survives in sea of repression: learn to hold your breath under water. Others make significant appearances including General Paulus in a haunting set peice on the Battle of Stalingrad. The "Sleepwalker" (Hitler) and his Russian counterpart - Stalin - pervade the work as they did the first half of the 20th century - and still influence how the world operates.
This book is a lenghty journey - you will not be the same at its end as you were at its start. Isn't that what great literature is all about?
The book is difficult to sum up, but it is a powerful work and well worth the time it takes. Vollmann is an amazing writer, and should have more works on audible. I recommend reading this alongside Postwar by Tony Judt, with the same narrator.
This book would be better had I taken a 20th century Russian History class with an emphasis on person involved in the Russian Revolution and a minor in Music and Classical Literature.
Why do buy and read literature that wins the National Book Award? The subject matter is inaccessible, the prose is incomprehensible, and I wallow in the regret that I am not smart enough for such offerings. Woe is me.
This book sucks. It nothing but rambling drival. Diarrhea of pen/keyboard. I can not get through the first two hours without turning on the radio. Probably the worst book of the two hundred I have listened to this year.
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