Jeremy's Reviews > Zone

Zone by Mathias Énard
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's review
Dec 05, 11

bookshelves: french-literature
Read from September 12 to 16, 2011

Zone is a remarkable book. The premise of the whole thing will seem like an almost eye-rolling cliche, a jaded intelligence operative is on a train from Milan to Rome to sell a handcuffed suitcase full of intelligence secrets before he leaves the spy business forever. That train ride is all that 'happens,' conventionally speaking. But the torrent of memories, historical facts, and nightmarish complicities that unfold in an unstoppable bum-rush from his head is as delerious and sweeping as almost anything I've ever read. Like W.G. sebald, Enard is interested in worming down into the bizarre resonances of history, by showing the cross linkages between cycles of destruction, war, and erasure. Yet unlike Sebald, whose work is so grounded by specific geographic locales and his photo-montages, Enard just flows ever outward, sucking more and more of the world through the exhausted, haunted mind of his protagonist. Zone is a total book. It tries to incorporate the whole history of Europe, Northern Africa, the Near Middle East, any place that in any way touches the Mediterranean basin gets pulled in. The range of references to literature and to (at least for a young american) obscurant, often monstrous geopolitical issues in this book is overwhelming. And I do mean overwhelming. Almost every page had me running to try and find a map of croatia or some information about a forgotten turkish war hero, or a minor bosnian war criminal, or trying to tease apart some weird reference to the battle of troy. Yet for it's deluge of erudition, the book never feels like it's just an intellectual dick measuring contest the way that a lot of sprawling high modernist stuff is. Enard filters whole civilizations through a whirlwind of run-on consciousness, not merely to show off intellectually, but to try and find traces of the endless volume of shadow lives and shadow histories that are what secretly support the conventional historical narratives that we all live in and reckon with. Zone is a book about moving forward, both in space and in time, about being shackled to history and how that, paradoxically, can make us free.
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