Front cover, hardback edition.
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|LC Class||PS3572.O395 E97 2005|
It is set in central Europe during the 20th century and examines a vast array of characters, ranging from generals to martyrs, officers to poets, traitors to artists and musicians. It deals with the moral decisions made by people in the most testing of times and offers a perspective on human actions during wartime. Vollmann makes use of many historical figures as characters including composer Dmitri Shostakovich, artist Käthe Kollwitz, film director Roman Karmen, poet Anna Akhmatova, SS officer Kurt Gerstein, activists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, as well as German general Friedrich Paulus and Soviet general Andrey Vlasov.
In an afterword, Vollmann admits that, while the book is heavily researched and mostly features real people, the work should be regarded as fiction. He calls it "a series of parables about famous, infamous and anonymous European moral actors at moments of decision." Though largely true to history, a number of anecdotes or details are created by the author, such as the "imaginary love triangle" between Shostakovich, Roman Karmen, and Elena Konstantinovskaya.
The Times Literary Supplement wrote that Vollmann "has turned to the historical novel and made it his own, fashioning a work which is cinematic in scope, epic in ambition and continuously engaging, shows that he is one of the most important and fascinating writers of our time."
The New York Times Book Review described it at his "most welcoming work, possibly his best book… part novel and part stories, virtuoso historical remembrance and focused study of violence."
- "The Bumbling Shostakovich," essay on Europe Central by Ted Gioia (Fractious Fiction)
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