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The Enormous Room

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  1,114 ratings  ·  109 reviews
In 1917 young Edward Estlin Cummings went to France as a volunteer with a Red Cross ambulance unit on the western front. But his free-spirited, insubordinate ways soon got him tagged as a possible enemy of La Patrie, and he was summarily tossed into a French concentration camp at La Ferte-Mace in Normandy. Under the vilest conditions, Cummings found fulfillment of his ever ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published November 3rd 2006 by Hard Press (first published 1922)
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The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine MansfieldThe Waste Land by T.S. EliotThe Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Velveteen Rabbit by Margery WilliamsBabbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Best of 1922
17th out of 30 books — 37 voters
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldWinnie-the-Pooh by A.A. MilneAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria RemarqueThe Sun Also Rises by Ernest HemingwayThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Best Books of the Decade: 1920's
145th out of 294 books — 526 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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K.D. Absolutely
Dec 12, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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Rachel
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
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,
...more
Jeff
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
Rhonda
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bill
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
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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
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K. Makansi
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
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Rebecca
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
Thomas Armstrong
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: ''....an 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
Emilio
It takes this book a while to get going, but once Cummings starts describing the very individual inhabitants of the Enormous Room, he's off. The stories of these misfits in French society are varied, energetic, and tinged with sadness and tragedy. Cummings makes no bones about finding these people "Delectable Mountains," far preferable to the nondescript plains he finds in more mainstream society, and he treats them with some sensitivity. This book will probably be especially appealing to the Li ...more
Maddsurgeon
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
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Leigh
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.
Deanne
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.
Rasa Stirbys
This book is for lovers of history, war, poetry, mice, crowds, jazz, lonliness, hysteria.
Fiona
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
...more
Wendy
So this is what you get when a poet writes a fictionalized (?) account of his 4 months' detention in France during WWI. There's little of 'story' here - just a constellation of character sketches (including Cummings' actual drawings of his fellow inmates), the lovely occasional insight, and a lot of clever and delightful phrases. Hard to read all at once; I confess I skimmed the last 50 pages, but it's worth the time to go at a more pedestrian pace and savor all the little bits of humor in the w ...more
Derek
Loosely the "memoirs" of Cummings as he was wrongfully detained by the French Government, this is an often humorous account of the people he encountered. His description of the situation, his friends, his enemies, and his sometimes off-kilter style gives the book a warmth that I wasn't expecting.

As it's memoirs, there isn't any plot, and the story is loosely structured around major events and important (to Cummings) people, rather than a strict timeline. Cummings admits as much within the text.
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Julesmarie
"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
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Ursula
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
...more
Laurie Cooper
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
...more
John E. Branch 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
...more
Dogwings
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
James
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 (
...more
Brandon T.
May 24, 2008 Brandon T. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys modernist works, or Cummings in particular.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brad
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
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
...more
Jenny
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
Olga Kovalenko
As a fan of the history of WWs and as a fan of literature, I liked this book. It's fascinating to look behind the impersonality of a war, especially under the guidance of such a master of the word as Cummings. He describes the world of a concentration camp in France in a form of vignettes dedicated to the most interesting characters and events. As he states himself, the book is rather a compilation of notes than a full-fledged novel or a historical account.
Industrygiant
This book has the same plot as the hit television sitcom Community. A man is thrust into a physical situation wherein he must interact with a group of people with whom he would not ordinarily associate and strong and lasting bonds of friendship are formed. Much like the hit movie "Into Great Silence" long passages of this book were sort of, frankly, boring. However, I believe this is an intentional dullness reflecting the action of the Enormous Room and thus these passages are quite effective. A ...more
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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
More about E.E. Cummings...
100 Selected Poems Complete Poems, 1904-1962 Selected Poems 95 Poems Tulips and Chimneys

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“By the way, a gendarme assured me this is not a prison.” 20 likes
“Lessons hide in his wrinkles. Bells ding in the oldness of eyes. Did he by, any chance, tell children that there are such monstrous things as peace and goodwill...a corrupter of youth no doubt...” 16 likes
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