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The Enormous Room

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  1,581 Ratings  ·  146 Reviews
Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), popularly known as E. E. Cummings, was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He is remembered as a preeminent voice of 20th century poetry. His body of work encompasses more than 900 poems, several plays and essays, numerous drawings, sketches, and paintings, as well as two novels. In 1917, Cummings enlisted in the ...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published February 6th 2009 by Dodo Press (first published 1922)
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K.D. Absolutely
Jun 09, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2004-2010)
He preferred that his name be written as “e. e. cummings” because some of his poems were also all in lowercase. I’ve read some of those and I really liked them so when I saw this book, even at a regular price, I immediately bought and read this.

Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962) was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright. He wrote poetry daily from the age of 8 to 22. During World War I, when he was 23, he volunteered as ambulance driver in France. He went there with a frien
Dec 30, 2011 Rachel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had the power to describe e.e. cummings's prose, I'd be even more of a genius than he was. I can't understand why he spent so much time writing poetry instead. Who else speaks of "a spic, not to say span, gentleman"? Observes a man "buckle his personality" and "bang forward with bigger and bigger feet"? Explains that he "hoisted my suspicious utterances upon my shoulder, which recognized the renewal of hostilities with a neuralgic throb"? Says that "rain did, from time to time, not fall: fr ...more
Mar 28, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
It struck me at the time as intensely interesting that, in the case of a certain type of human being, the more cruel are the miseries inflicted upon him the more cruel does he become toward anyone who is so unfortunate as to be weaker or more miserable than himself."
― E.E. Cummings, The Enormous Room


Prison Literature as a genre is fascinating. Like war literature, there is this gap between those who have actually lived in prison and their experiences and those who imagine. Certainly the job of t
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Ugh. Not finishing and NOT going to.

I absolutely adore e.e.cummings poetry. But this memoir of his months in a French prison during WWI just does absolutely nothing for me. I was pushing myself to keep going, and kept pushing, but after getting about 60% of the way through, I give up.

I can see why this would work for other people, but it just didn't work for me. It comes off as a series of barely organized anecdotes, with a thin thread of only semi-chronological narrative winding through. Sure,
Feb 13, 2011 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine if "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" was funny. Yeah, that's kind of what "The Enormous Room" is like. I'm glad I read it. But I'm also really glad Cummings stuck to poetry after this. Fiction is definitely not his thing. He spends most of the book writing character sketches of all the other inmates, and giving them cute nicknames. And I suppose it's easy to be light-hearted about the time you spent in a French prison/detention center if you were only there for 4 months. There's not ...more
May 26, 2010 Rhonda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
K. Makansi
Feb 05, 2013 K. Makansi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my opinion, THE ENORMOUS ROOM is absolutely a must-read for every aspiring writer. Perhaps because Cummings was an artist as well, fond of sketching the characters and situations he describes in his book, he has a gift, better than any author I have ever read, for capturing and recording both the physical aspect and the personality of each of his characters.

THE ENORMOUS ROOM is an eclectic jumble of many things. On the one hand, it is a war story. It takes place over the three months of autum
Mar 20, 2014 Maddsurgeon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, world-war-i
Cummings, imprisoned for supporting anti-war sentiments in France, describes the strange and poorly-run prison where he spent the end of the war.

Though he's devastatingly clever and does his fair share of attacking the madness and incompetence of the French government and the modern world in general, what's really striking about this book is the voice of the speaker. He's full of amusement and wonder, despite the awful things going on around him, and choosing to focus on the memorable characters
"But if he could describe it all
He would be an artist.
But if he were an artist there would he deeper wounds
Which he could not describe."
--from "Silence" by Edgar Lee Masters

I discovered that poem when I was younger, and those lines at the end of a stanza about a former solider who's unable to talk about what WWI was like for him have stuck with me. Every time I opened this book, I couldn't help them running through my head.

e.e. cummings is one of my favorite poets, but until earlier this year
Feb 19, 2014 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
I read this book based on some random internet recommendation. It was in a list of "books you have to read you've never heard of before" type list. The author of that list was correct in that I'd never heard of it before. I'm not sure it was one I had to read though.

I actually haven't read anything by cummings before so I had no idea what to expect in terms of style or content. In fact, I knew very little to nothing about cummings beyond his name and reputation. I didn't even know his gender bef
Robert Beveridge
E. E. Cummings, The Enormous Room (Liveright, 1921)

Cummings became famous for his poetry, but before that he wrote a now obscure novel-cum-memoir about his temporary imprisonment during World War I, The Enormous Room. Modeled loosely after Bunyan's magnum opus, Pilgrim's Progress, Cummings gives us the arrest and detention (for he is never sent to prison, only detained awaiting the word of the Commission on whether he is to be imprisoned or freed) of a friend of his and himself. The friend is ch
Apr 18, 2011 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew that I liked ee cummings as a poet, so I thought I'd try him as a novelist. This is a book that needs to simmer after you read it. At times, all you want to do is wallow in the text, floating around in the strange syntaxes and odd word usage. Cummings takes the English language and flips it upside down, then twirls it around to fit the shapes of his ideas. The only reason I gave it 4 stars and not 5 is that this language usage can become too personal, so only cummings knows exactly what h ...more
Paul Lima
Jul 17, 2013 Paul Lima rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am calling this book 'finished' even though I have not finished it. I don't get it. It's by E.E. Cummings, the humerous poet. But I don't know if this is comedy, satire, drama, tragedy. Mostly I just found the 100+ pages that I read kind of boring. Not much happens, and I am not sure what happens when it does. It feels like a WWI 'Catch-22' in some way, but I really am not sure if it's satire. If anybody knows, do let me know!
It's very clearly a memoir written by a poet--a slightly obscure style, meandering narrative movement... and flashes of incredible momentary insight. Worth reading more than once.
Jan 01, 2014 Naomi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
An amazing text from WWI, this typescript edition has E.E. Cumming's illustrations to accompany the story of his imprisonment during the war.
Rasa Stirbys
Feb 28, 2008 Rasa Stirbys rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is for lovers of history, war, poetry, mice, crowds, jazz, lonliness, hysteria.
Not at all what I expected, easy to read and enjoyable, plus auto-biographical.
Interesting for the subject material but found the sense of humour a bit trying from time to time.
While volunteering as ambulance drivers during WWI, Cummings and a friend of his ran afoul of the French government as suspicious characters. They were suspicious because they spent more time with the French than with their American compatriots, and because Cummings' friend (referred to in the book as B.) had mentioned rumors of various French plots in his letters home. Cummings' close association with B. was enough to get him hauled in alongside B. when the gendarmes came to collect him.

The boo
This is the true story of the author's WWI experience. He could have titled this book, "Story of the Great War Seen from the Windows of Nowhere".

volunteered in WWI with the ambulance service in France. He was patriotic but a pacifist not willing to kill. Once in France, he had a month's stay in Paris where he learned to speak French and love the French way. When he and his friend joined their unit, they spent a lot of time with the French which infuriated his supervisor who said they were there
Laurie Cooper
Aug 15, 2013 Laurie Cooper rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where to start? Loved this book - challenging, intriguing, eye-opening, amusing, thought-provoking, with political history, fascinating characters, incredible prose and, oh, and a high-school French refresher to boot.

Cummings was himself placed in a French prison during WWI, along with a friend, and takes great care to describe fellow captives, his captors and a unique perspective on the never (or far less) advertised repercussions of war. He both embraces and criticizes his predicament, while d
John Jr.
Ernest Hemingway wasn't the only American author who gleaned material for literature from serving in an ambulance corps during World War I. E. E. Cummings had been doing the same work in France when he and a friend were arrested and imprisoned in Normandy. Cummings's account of that became his first published book. (I'll ignore the question of whether it should be reckoned an autobiographical novel or a memoir that may include fictionalized elements.)

The Enormous Room begins with Cummings announ
May 25, 2013 Dogwings rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
ee cummings was an ambulance driver in France during WW1 (I have been teaching US history to 8th graders recently so please forgive me if I get pedantic - for example it took a whole 20 minutes for me to explain to them why no one at the time called it "World War One" - entirely my failing and not theirs.) He was arrested by the French government for treason. His memoir, The Enormous Room, is a step by step description of how to get yourself in grand trouble for having done nothing wrong. It is ...more
Nov 05, 2007 Jenny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating account about Cummings' and his friend Brown's captivity in a detention camp at La Ferte Mace, Orne, France during WWI. The two men were ambulance drivers/med techs, outsiders in their unit for their fraternization with the French, which automatically put them in suspicion in the eyes of their commanding officers. Brown wrote a letter to his his family back in the U.S. The letter contained some critical remarks about the war; it was intercepted by the French government cens ...more
No Problem James
A series of character sketches more than a literary memoir, this book is probably best consumed in as few sittings as possible with a French-English dictionary at one hand and a running list of characters at the other.

Cummings possesses a keen wit, a knack for pithy description, and deep appreciation for the diversity of human personalities. His sincere sympathy for the outcasts and misfits held as prisoners and his disdain for the bravado, callousness, and ineptitude of the guards provides a un
William Kirkland
As a novel it’s odd because plot and character development, relations built over time, a story arc, give way, as in a well-worked journal, to a linear account of the days, multiple interesting, but not particularly connected, sketches of fellow inmates, descriptions of the mud, the cold, the fights, the daily drudgery of life in The Enormous Room.

... Pages of character studies, like notebooks Matisse or Picasso might have left, a torso, a face, a man pushing a broom, a woman climbing stairs. Mo
Nov 16, 2008 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
No one in the literary world seems to care for this novel and I can understand that, but for all its flaws I think THE ENORMOUS ROOM is very rewarding in spots. The book is a fictionalized memoir of the several months Cummings spent locked up in a French prison during the first world war. Throughout, the narrator celebrates the (far-fetchedly) close bonds between inmates and skewers the ignorance and banality of those in power (specifically the French government).

As one would expect, the prose (
Sep 16, 2008 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This read took me a little longer than I expected to finish, despite being a relatively short book. However, cummings has long been one of my favorite poets and a person doesn't just quickly read through his poems. You have to read them, re-read them, peel them off the page, chew them up and spit the mush of them in your hands and rub that mush gloriously in your eyes; you have to use all your senses on his words; you have to take off every stitch of clothing and dance around in utter nudity amo ...more
Dec 27, 2015 brook rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you have read Papillon recently, this will seem like a third-rate knockoff, which is too bad, because it is probably an interesting story in its own right. E.E. Cummings spent just over 3 months in a French prison for a cloudy accusation of treason or works against the state (he was an American, which is interesting) while working as an ambulance man during WWI. To his mind, even being in a French prison was better than working the front lines in WWI, which gives you an idea of just how horre ...more
Thomas Armstrong
Aug 21, 2014 Thomas Armstrong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I've loved e.e.cummings poetry in the past, so the fact that there was this early novel out there enticed me to pick it up. I loved his irreverence in the book, with passages like this one, for example: '' altar, guarded with the ugliness of unlit candles, on which stood inexorably the efficient implements for eating God.'' The book was not so much a plotted novel as a series of sketches, essentially character sketches of the memorable and not-so-memorable peopl ...more
Susan Oleksiw
Feb 01, 2016 Susan Oleksiw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, fiction
E.E. Cummings volunteered for an ambulance service during World War I. An American friend came under suspicion for his less than complimentary letters about France written to his family at home. Both men were arrested under suspicion and sent to a holding camp. This book is a loosely veiled autobiographical novel about the author's three months interred there.

Cummings is known for his dislike of unbridled authority in his later works, and his experiences in France, which left him very ill, may
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Edward Estlin Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 14, 1894. He began writing poems as early as 1904 and studied Latin and Greek at the Cambridge Latin High School.

He received his BA in 1915 and his MA in 1916, both from Harvard University. His studies there introduced him to the poetry of avant-garde writers, such as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

In 1917, Cummings published a
More about E.E. Cummings...

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“By the way, a gendarme assured me this is not a prison.” 23 likes
“I was too tired to think. I merely felt the town as a unique unreality. What was it? I knew -- the moon's picture of a town. These streets with their houses did not exist, they were but a ludicrous projection of the moon's sumptuous personality. This was a city of Pretend, created by the hypnotism of moonnight. -- Yet when I examined the moon she too seemed but a painting of a moon and the sky in which she lived a fragile echo of color. If I blew hard the whole shy mechanism would collapse gently with a neat soundless crash. I must not, or lose all.” 20 likes
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