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Europe Central

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,407 ratings  ·  188 reviews
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 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, ...more
Paperback, 811 pages
Published November 14th 2005 by Penguin (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Geoff
”All magic spells fail without belief. We enforced belief.”

~~

Europe Central is another monstrous book from Vollmann; monstrous in size, content, language, implications, critique 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 ma
...more
Aubrey
4.5/5

If 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 quotations 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 treat.

I 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, t
...more
Mala

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 O
...more
Ian Heidin-Seek
(Thank You, Bill, for Another) God Almighty Tome
[An Interpolation Upon an Enquiry by Steven Moore]

Now it’s for sale,
Don’t be deterred.
This thousand-page,
Half-million-word
War effort had
To be contrived
In breath-taking,
Large scale detail,
So it could be
Desired as
A maximal
Unholy grail.
We college grads
And desk-bound males
Now type away
Inside the whale,
So that we can
All adulate
The moral scope
Of Vollmann's tale.
Hence, we honour
Its mighty length,
And shower it
With lavish praise.



A Novel Calculus

"Europ
...more
Jonathan
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 question 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 quickly exhausted both my interest and my enjoyment.

I cannot "review" this book, as
...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Europe Central, William T. Vollmann’s most popularly successful book (1280 gr ratings, 165 reviews, average starrage 3.88), conferrer of integrity upon the National Book Award for Fiction (2005), translated into German, Italian, Spanish, French and Serbian -- not too bad.

A few thoughts in my minor key.

Reading 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
...more
Emily
William Vollman's Europe Central was, for me, a very slow burn. I spent the first two hundred pages of this sprawling, kaleidescopic epic on the emotional sidelines, wryly observant, interested but not overly engaged. Vollman's characters, I thought, were intriguing, but also annoying. His prose was full of vivid detail, but a bit overblown. It was the kind of thing, I found myself thinking, that I would have enjoyed better in high school, when drama needed to be proclaimed from on high with can ...more
Tony
It was on 3/4 mile of perfect Anguillan beach. On a wicker lounge. Derron, with a British accent, was feeding me margaritas, perfect though in plastic. For three days, a young couple lounged next to us. SHE wore a flimsy little white bikini with her (new?) name sequined on the back bottom: 'Mrs. K_____'. HE sat under the umbrella and read The Hebrew Bible for three days. So, don't tell me that Europe Central is not a beach book.

It would be a simple matter to write this story as a parable of the
...more
Jack Waters
Wow. How many of these dense 800+ page novels can I get through without hitting my head against a wall? Not sure, but here is another. Vollmann reigns supreme among living writers. I can't think of a single American writer more prolific than Vollmann, going all the way back to the country's founding.

An historic novel set in early 20th century central Europe, it sets out to depict the mindset of many famous people put in moralistic binds during warfare; a modern War and Peace, essentially.

His tre
...more
Natalie
A World War II novel that barely mentions America at all... since it's more or less been lost to American history that the Soviet Union was the country that kicked Germany's ass and stopped their encroaching empire. The story focuses slightly less on the war and more on the human stories from the war, concentrating on Soviet Russia and Fascist Germany, using quite a few obscure (to me, at least) historical figures as characters. Vollmann points out that in a war between ideologies like Soviet Co ...more
Greg
A great companion book to the abridged version of Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down. This isn't for everyone. It's a war novel that isn't really a war novel, but a study of morality in totalitarian societies. Absolutely great.
What I learned? I learned that Walter Benjamin's sister-in-law was a cold-hearted prosecutor in East Germany, who sent many, many people to their deaths for ideological reasons. I also learned that many of these people were killed using a guillotine. That's pretty bad-a
...more
Stephen M
Jul 24, 2013 Stephen M is currently reading it
First sentence: "A squat black telephone, I mean an octopus, the god of our Signal Corps, owns a recess in Berlin (more probably Moscow, which one German general has named the core of the enemy's whole being). Somewhere between steel reefs, a wire wrapped in gutta-percha vibrates: I hereby . . . zzZZZZ. . . the critical situation . . . a crushing blow".

If that don't sell you on a book, I don't know what will.
David
May 07, 2008 David rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of modern literary fiction, military history, and 20th century music
Most Americans know about the American contribution to the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany, but by the accounts of most Europeans, it was the victory of Russia that determined the fate of the Third Reich. In comparison to the 4oo thousand American deaths, Russia lost twenty-three million.

The cities and endless expanses of Central Europe were littered with bodies when these two gigantic armies slugged it out. This book paints a fantastic portrait of that struggle and its aftermath, studded with in
...more
Nate D
Mar 11, 2011 Nate D rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: humans (with time on their hands)
Recommended to Nate D by: the weight of history
Impressively ambitious and far-reaching, this is Vollmann's post-modern summation of a 20th century caught between warring ideologies. Europe Central is the hub that relays and intermingles the messages of fascism and communism into a chattering portrait of the immediate past. It's filled with characters trapped between unappealing, dangerous moral options (Dimitri Shostakovich and Kurt Gerstein burn especially bright) and gleaming with clever allegory and bits of hyper-vivid dashes of prose, bu ...more
Venkat Narayanan
Yes! I've done it, I've finished reading "Europe Central". Seriously the reading time was quite looonnnggg (almost 50 days). After closing this beautiful-monster-sized-cranium-bashing-brick I felt - OVERWHELMED. All I could say now is "War is absurd".
Bryan
Some folks enjoy light reading in summer, but I save those extra daylight hours for the heavies. I’d been dying to read William T. Vollmann’s massive cold war epic Europe Central since it won the National Book Award in 2005. Well worth my wait, Europe Central is a work of art as brutal and heavy as the 88mm shells which litter its chapters. Which is not to say the story lacks moral delicacy. Tough times require tough… well you know. Vollmann utilizes prosopography to present a cyclical narrative ...more
James
Europe Central is an uncompromising examination of the effect of war and ideology on players large and small along the eastern front of World War II. I suggested this novel for the digital collection of my library, and they purchased the WMA version rather than the EPUB version. So I began to listen to the audiobook, mostly because Goodreader PR Griffis said it could be done and I would probably like it. Listening to this book is fairly tough, because it is densely packed with facts, impressions ...more
Tom
Feb 26, 2009 Tom rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Yes, for a mature reader
Recommended to Tom by: National Book Award
Europe Central demands repeat visits. It's difficult, to be sure, and may be nearly impossible for anyone not familiar with world history during the WWII years. On the other hand, I was inspired, after reading it, to tackle Inside the Third Reich, and to listen to music by Shostakovich.
I think Vollmann is concerned with the role of art and artists to influence the world in times of peril. He examines the degree to which artists influence, are influenced by, or speak out against terror and war.
...more
Jim
I'm setting this aside after just 98 pages. It needs to be said that as interesting as his subject matter is, and as inspired as his prose can sometimes be, there lurks in his work a creepy, pervy, voyeur who writes with one hand and whacks off with the other. His work is self-indulgent and the reason he won't let editors change his books is so he can continue his self-indulgence 'til he climaxes.

Vollmann and I are done for awhile...


EDIT 9/25/14: Okay, I'm going back in. I'm going to read the ne
...more
AC
Oct 16, 2014 AC marked it as books-i-don-t-quite-seem-to-get
WM, apparently, not for me...
Andrew
In a book this big, I have to say that unevenness is almost an inevitability. So keep that in mind.

But! In a book this big, there's also a pretty high chance of revelatory beauty, L. Ron Hubbard notwithstanding, and Vollmann delivers in spades, delving into the real and imagined lives of Shostakovich, Kollwitz, and others who were forced into some very rough decisions around the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Europe Central has ambition. I like ambition. And like other hyper-ambitious works
...more
Linda
I read Europe Central in order to find out what is going on in experimental fiction these days. First, I picked up the Audible edition (easy to do when you're spending points) but one hour in I knew I needed to see the text. Russian names. Fragments of overheard speech. Impossible events. Next, I picked up the iTunes edition (even easier to do) but this wasn't right either. I wanted to underline, to draw arrows, to write exclamation points in the margins...leave my mark. So I ordered a used prin ...more
Mark Sacha
Vollmann structures his World War II moral parable novel like a short story collection, with paired pieces going off one another for 700 or so pages. Sounds promising, but I think he would have done better to stick to a more conventional form. A good half of the "stories" contained in Europe Central are short and ineffective, with wooden metaphors and a sort of Lars Von Trier-esque kind of gibberish (think: Europa). Fortunately, these pieces account for less than 25% of the actual material, the ...more
Steve Kettmann
Here's the review I published early on in the San Francisco Chronicle, well before this won the National Book Award:

Slipping downhill with Joseph and Adolf
A novel with a moral core explores their legacy of evil
Reviewed by Steve Kettmann

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Europe Central

By William T. Vollmann

VIKING; 811 PAGES; $39.95


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It's neither an exaggeration nor an insult to say that William T. Vollmann's throbbing, twitching, ex
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Ed
A friggin monument.

Europe Central is such a thorough ass-kicking. As Chris S has pointed out to me (and it was his reason for recommending this book in the first place), I've been doing a lot of reading, both fiction and non-, on the subject of WWII, especially the Ostfront. With that background, together with the fairly thorough background I have from coursework at LU regarding the life and works of Dmitri Shostakovich, I feel I am qualified to make a pretty serious judgment on this work. And I
...more
Dirkus
A fever dream of nibelungs and nebelwerfers. Not quite stories, not quite a novel. Not quite fact, not quite fiction. Vollmann's his own category while 'invading the meaning of Europe.'

Many of the speakers are less characters than merely voices, ghosts in the machine of Europe Central. They evesdrop on the heart of the landscape. They whisper its dealings and witness its accounts, and record its ledgers.

Vollmann's book is filled with historical figures. We see Kathe Kollwitz, watching in 1914 a
...more
Steve
Every few years I read a William Vollmann novel. His work tends to be a little ponderous, but once you get into the rhythm, it flows and packs a wallop. Europe Central is a powerful read, one that may take its toll on the unwary reader. Through a series of interlinking stories, it reviews the history of totalitarianism between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, offering a grim reminder of the violent insanity that results from slavish adherence to ideology. At the heart of this work is a brilliant ...more
Benjamin
Feb 23, 2011 Benjamin added it
Shelves: audiobook
[Review abstract: a collection of interlocked or morally relevant stories about historical figures focusing on Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR; so interesting and well-researched that I sometimes wished I were reading straight history; the fiction was moving and illuminating at times, but occasionally intrusive; not a great book to listen to because of its complexity--multiple narrators, difficult names to keep track of, length.]

For some reason--maybe it's just the near rhyme of their names?--I
...more
Louis-Jean Levasseur
The war of nazi Germany against the Soviet union is the background on which Vollmann depicts every character’s troubled allegiances, torn by doubts and fears, threatened both by their opponent as by their own goverment. Violence is everywhere, monstrousness is on both sides and conscience seems to be but a weakness : Each moral choice involves a sacrifice by which love, honor or safety will be compromised. This way, the theater of operations turns everyone into sleepwalkers plunging Europe into ...more
Chris Curtis
I feel sometimes that certain writers fall roughly into two camps. There are those who obsess over every page, right about 800 brilliant ones at that, but don't seems as concerned with the whole. In contrast, there are those that lack a true gift for prose itself but are consumate story tellers. Vollman falls with a loud thud in the former camp, though he can flirt with the latter. The guy is no doubt technically gifted, but god what a brutally long and dull book.
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William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

More about William T. Vollmann...
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“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?” 4 likes
“The reformed addict who feels the craving almost believes in it, then merely smiles…” 3 likes
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