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Die Hauptstadt by Robert Menasse
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really liked it

This is a good and important book, but one that transforms generically, from the multilinear blend of destinies that it starts out as, to an essay-novel that delivers a message more efficiently than resolves its narrative knots, toward the end. We meet an array of characters at the outset, all caught in the same moment of perceiving a stray pig running around on the streets of Brussels, and follow each of these characters (the majority of which do not know, or even get to meet each other) through a period of time, in which all of them encounter a major obstacle on their way or have to make a life-changing decision. This is done masterfully, and with great care. Little by little, we also get to know that the selection of people is not at all random, but that their individual decisions also have an influence of the life of the others. Little by little, however, another theme starts to emerge, one that seems to be of much greater importance to the author than the fate of his characters. What is Europe? Or more precisely: has Europe as a political entity strayed from the course on which it was set by its founders? Has the ship been hijacked? (Well, we all know it is, but that alone is not reason enough for jumping it.) Menasse's concern with the fate of our "common destiny" (unfortunately, one probably can't use these words without ironic quotes without sounding naive) is serious and the poetic answer he provides to the question surprising as well as logical at the same time: it is not the Brussels of the present where the mental capital of Europe is situated - as the founding ground of its values, it is elsewhere (no spoilers), but in a place where it will physically never be.

Critically, I'd like to point out the role of Eastern Europe in the book as the "dark other". The only main character from around here is Polish, and yes, a fundamentalist assassin. A few Romanian careerists get token mentions, and the only sympathetic East European, a Czech, turns out to be an Austrian national, who has had proper schools etc. Fair enough, the British are also not described in the most favourable of terms. But still: I've met proportionally just as many incompetent, unintelligent, backward and no more properly educated people in positions of influence in the "core regions" of the European civilization as I have seen in the periphery - maybe even more. So yes, a sympathetic, competent and intelligent person from around here would have been nice. After all, it is the divisions and trenches that Europe as a political entity was supposed to overcome, and won't, if we keep enforcing them. That said, a good book, one I hope will make it to other languages soon.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 28, 2018 – Shelved
January 28, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read

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