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Europe Central

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  1,943 Ratings  ·  240 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, US / Canada, 811 pages
Published November 14th 2005 by Penguin (first published 2005)
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Glenn Russell
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Vollmann’s language is rich and strawberry cream creamy, language that, without too much ado, could be transcribed into T.S. Elliot-style poetry, since his themes hit on damaged humanity, the power of history and fragmentation, and that’s fragmentation as in Dada, as in Hannah Höch and John Heartfield photomontage, a form of art Adolf Hitler especially despised. And with this quote from Mein Kampf “I go the way that Providence dictates, with the assurance of a sleepwalker." the novel repeatedly
Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy
(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,
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

Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2016
"The majority of my symphonies are tombstones."
― Dmitry Shostakovich in William T. Vollmann, Europe Central


"We have a Motherland and they have a Fatherland. Their child is Europe Central."
― William T. Vollmann, Europe Central


This book, THIS book.

This book reminds me of some mad Nazi experiment (or Soviet torture) grafting the madness of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and the darkness of Littell's The Kindly Ones. From the first chapter it grabs you grotesquely by the balls and just won't let go.

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

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
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
”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
This is a rewarding read about the conflict between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin over the fate of Europe in World War 2 told from the perspective of a broad set of emblematic characters. As pointed out in the excellent review by Ian, Vollmann carries over in this novel his deep concerns with the moral calculus behind violence as explored in his non-fiction work preceding this, “Rising Up and Rising Down.” The central characters and their major concerns include:

--Dmitri Shastakovich, a Russia
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
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
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii, music, u-s-lit
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
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2009
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
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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?

Extremity is revealing. The fact that the instances of such (to 1st Worlders, anyway) occur so seldom only enhances its spell. The soul MUST be forged within the flames of being. Well, ma
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
David M
May 21, 2016 rated it liked it
With Europe Central, I've now read a dozen books by Vollmann. Which sort of seems like a lot, except that I've still barely even touched his two main projects: the Seven Dream series and Rising Up & Rising Down.

His books vary widely in subject matter, yet clearly the same relentless mind is at work in all of them. He makes you believe that smoking crack with a street whore and spending hours in a library researching WW2 need not be such different activities. It's all for the sake of the same
Jul 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing

--Europe Central

An Imaginary Love Triangle: Shostakovich, Karmen, Konstantinovskaya
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
Stephen M
Oct 04, 2012 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.
Ned Mozier
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This massive tome nearly knocked me out, but I survived, and am much the better for it. My knowledge of the eastern front of World War II was greatly expanded, told from the points of view of a wide range of musicians, lovers, generals, artists and government functionaries. The cast of carriers and constantly shifting narration was dizzying, but ultimately deeply satisfying. Vollman’s use of real people (whom I could study independently) and detailed list of sources helped me wade through this o ...more
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you have any interest in World War II and the relationship and events happening in Russia and Germany, read this book. If you are interested in what was happening in these countries leading up to World War II then also read this book. If you are interested in what was happening after World War II then read this book. This is told through the perspectives of different historical figures like the composer Shostakovich, Paulus, Gerstein and others. It is beautifully written and exhaustively rese ...more
Mar 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Nate D
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Marc Kozak
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's hard to think back to a time when modern popular music didn't have an electronic beat behind it, but in the grand scheme of things, it's still a relative novelty. In reality, it's been less than 100 years from when orchestral music reigned supreme, and it reigned supreme for a really long time -- literally hundreds of years. It almost seems silly to consider now (and when you read passages about it, even moreso), but not too long ago, people would gather at a symphony, or around a talented ...more
Aug 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviews
Never trust anyone. Never say anything—except musically, of course. Music is safe because nobody understands it. In other words, only in music is everything clear.

As the world burns, they create their art. Käthe Kollwit paints the nightmarish portraits of her dead child, and the Soviet Union proclaims her metaphorology ripe with Communist intent, but . . . (In the end, her art got supplanted in both zones. A grief-stricken mother holding her dead child is all very well, but perhaps a trifle to
Some of the writing is transforming. The two pages on the early Nazi book burnings, narrated by a Luftwaffe pilot, are awe-inspiring.

The long book does bog down in attempting to be a fly-on-the wall in the Kremlin--but he's factually accurate, as repeatedly demonstrated by the late Robert Conquest.
Venkat Narayanan
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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".
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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?” 11 likes
“Self-deception is a pessimistic definition of optimism.” 5 likes
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