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The Enormous Room

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  1,500 Ratings  ·  141 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
Kindle Edition
Published (first published 1922)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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K.D. Absolutely
Dec 12, 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
Jan 03, 2012 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
Apr 04, 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,
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.
Feb 16, 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
Mar 12, 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
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
Jun 07, 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
Aug 27, 2015 Jen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
the most Enormous book I have read about World War I, a monument to the misère that can hold people together and elevate their senses. there is only the barest skeleton of a "plot", which we learn even in the introduction: Cummings is seized and put into captivity, where he resides for three months, and then is released. the rest is atmosphere and sensation, the strange childish behavior of men who are thrown together and subjected to an arbitrary regime of rules which transform daily life utter ...more
Jan 28, 2015 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who knew E.E. Cummings (turns out he wasn't so attached to the lower case) wrote a couple of novels? Autobiography and memoir should probably never be treated as fact, least of all in the hands of a literary writer. Nonetheless, the background is that, as a volunteer ambulance driver in France near the end of WWI, Cummings was detained by the French government on suspicion of sedition - his best friend in the corps made some anti-war remarks in a letter home which Cummings was then expected to r ...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
Philip Lane
I was interested in this memoir of the First World War. It is not a novel but rather a memoir in which Cummings recalls the events and people of a time he was interned in a detention centre for those who were under suspicion of working against the French state. We meet a series of eccentric characters and the set up of the centre is well described. He goes on to relate a number of incidents without their being much attempt at any sort of linear storyline. I found a bit frustrating as it flits fr ...more
Glenis Stott
Apr 16, 2015 Glenis Stott rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have to emphasise this was the kindle version. I haven't read it in book form, although I may in the future when I get over this experience. I know that ee cummings had issues about punctuation, 'avant guarde' and 'dynamic' according to The Poetry Foundation but the punctuation I saw was just static and wrong. Opening/closing brackets were placed against the sentence behind/in front of the next sentence, eg( in which B's baggage was already deposited ). The commas had no following space, eg A ...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!
Jan 05, 2016 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
Apr 09, 2014 Emilio rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ransom
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
Prior to this I have not read anything by e.e. cummings (not that I recall, I may have had something in school that I have forgotten).

This is the story of the author's time in a French detention camp during World War I. The conditions were deplorable, dozens of men in one large room, with barely any food, no sanitation, and full of vermin. Cummings does not write a chronological account of his time there, but rather provides a series of characterizations of the other prisoners, and anecdotes ab
Feb 26, 2016 Jack rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
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.
Jan 15, 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.
Terri Loeffler
Jul 19, 2016 Terri Loeffler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WWI in a French Prison

I've read many books on World War I, and I always expect sadness. It was a horrible time, and I'm almost embarrassed to love this story because it's so very funny. E.E. Cummings (before he went to lower case) went to Paris with a friend at the beginning of the war as an ambulance driver. Early on, his friend spent a letter that the censors found seditious, so the two of them were sent to a prison at La Ferte Mace. His descriptions of his fellow prisoners and the inexplicabl
Joe Holley
Jan 07, 2015 Joe Holley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The enormous room written by the poet and novelist E. E. Cummings about his temporary imprisonment in France during World War I. It is a first hand account of the unfortunate reactive decisions to preserve national security by making sweeping policies of detention of anyone unknown or unfettered without accountability. The affect on the individuals who find themselves stuck in these situations without regard to gender or age can be devastating. Imprisonment under these circumstances can be bruta ...more
Susan Oleksiw
Aug 16, 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
James Helfrich
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
Jul 20, 2015 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finally! It took me forever to finish this one. Party it was because I kept getting library books up on my Overdrive that I had to read that would expire, and it was party because it was so heavy, I couldn't just read a bit,mout it down, come back, type thing. I had to commit to it and finish it! Cummings is one of my favorite poets (my youngest son's middle name is Estlin), but I hadn't ventured into his novel until now. I love how his personality comes through in his prose, but I admit it was ...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 about E.E. Cummings...

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“By the way, a gendarme assured me this is not a prison.” 22 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...” 19 likes
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