William T. Vollmann’s Europe Central | A Short Riff on a Long Book

Biblioklept

Kilian Eng Kilian Eng

1. William T. Vollmann’s Europe Central,  811 pages in my Penguin trade paperback edition (including end notes), is a virtuoso attempt to describe or measure or assess or explain or analyze the Eastern front of WWII, a part of the war that in my American ignorance I know, or knew (no, know) so little about.

2. The book covers 1914-1975, most of the composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich’s life. If Europe Central has a hero, it is Shostakovich.

From the book’s last end note, “An Imaginary Love Triangle: Shostakovich, Karmen, Konstantinovaskya”:

When I think of Shostakovich, and when I listen to his music, I imagine a person consumed by fear and regret, a person who (like Kurt Gerstein) did what little he could to uphold the good—in this case, freedom of artistic creation, and the mitigation of other people’s emergencies. He became progressively more beaten down, and certainly experienced…

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Crossing Over (Into Comics)

The Book Wars

Last week I did a couple of reviews of verse novels that worked pretty well as crossover (from YA to “adult”) fiction. This week I want to introduce two comics that suit the crossover theme, except this time when I say “crossover” I mean that I’m pretty sure these were marketed for older audiences but could have appreciative teen readers as well.

The first book, just like one of the books last week, was a gift from the lovely Megan Harrison. Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá was published in a serialized issues in 2010, and since then has won an Eisner award, a Harvey, and an Eagle award. The story is about Brás de Oliva Domingos …

The miracle child of a world-famous Brazilian writer, Brás spends his days penning other people’s obituaries and his nights dreaming of becoming a successful author himself—writing the end of other people’s stories, while his own…

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Oscar Wilde in Prison

A R T L▼R K

51chT0vHKVLOn the 19th of May 1897, Irish writer Oscar Wilde was released from prison after serving a two year  sentence for criminal sodomy and “gross indecency”. He had to go through hard labor and major deprivation, a very problematic situation for a hedonist accustomed to his creature comforts. His experiences in prison were the basis for his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol(1898).

In a bid to understand the reasoning behind Wilde’s imprisonment, Neil McKenna’sThe Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (2003) systematically investigated all available evidence about Wilde’s amorous liaisons, his lifelong erotic attraction to men and his subsequent support of Uranianism. The latter was a 19th-century term which referred to the actions of a person of a third sex, neither entirely male, nor female, someone with “a female psyche in a male body” who is sexually attracted to men, later extended as a definition…

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Book review: Midnight’s Children

Book of words

When I finally completed Salman Rushdie’s bestselling novel “Midnight’s Children,” I was truly, truly relieved that I persevered till the very last page for it truly is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that left me marveled and humbled by his ability to blur the lines between magic and history.

Set in the postcolonial era, this novel is as much the autobiography of protagonist Saleem Sinai as well as the story of India. Saleem, who was born at the stroke of midnight on India’s independence, inexplicably shared his life’s triumphs and disasters with the fate of his nation. This coincidence also endowed him magical powers in his large cucumber nose to sniff out danger when others were unable to and telepathic powers to connect with other children like him who were born in the early hours of independence, a group which he called “midnight’s children.’

“It is the privilege and the curse of…

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The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation, by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell

Blogging for a Good Book

gettysburgHow many schoolchildren do you suppose have memorized The Gettysburg Address, then forgotten it? How many adults can complete the phrase “Fourscore and …”, but don’t understand what Lincoln meant by it?  Jonathan Hennessey, author of this sesquicentennial interpretation of Lincoln’s immortal speech, does both students and adults an immense service in breaking down the speech line by line to show what a radical statement the Gettysburg Address really was at the time.

Abraham Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg four months after the three-day long bloodletting that is called the high tide of the Confederacy.  He was added to the program as a courtesy, but audiences nonetheless expected the kind of hours-long oration that served as inspiration and entertainment in the pre-broadcast days.  Lincoln had proved himself a master of the craft during his debates with Stephen Douglas in the 1858…

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Alice B. Toklas and Her Famous Pot Fudge

A R T L▼R K

51HIrTy5vfLOn the 7th of March 1967, Alice Babette Toklas, a longtime lover, secretary, editor, cook, and companion of the writer Gertrude Stein, died in Paris, France. An American of Polish descent, Toklas met Stein in Paris on the 8th of September 1907, and fell in love with her. The feeling was mutual, and so the pair decided to share their life together. Their relationship was very much Yin-Yang, as they complemented each other in many ways. Toklas remained a background figure in this relationship, supporting Stein in her writing career. But the later did not take it for granted, and acknowledged her partner by, for example, publishing her 1933 memoirs under the perverse title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

The couple’s reputation as culturally significant came largely from their wide circle of friends. Their home on 27 rue de Fleurus became a meeting place for many…

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