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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Patrik Ouředník

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To purchase Europeana

Title: Europeana
Author: Patrik Ouředník
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Europeana - US
Europeana - UK
Europeana - Canada
Europeana - India
Europeana - France
europeana - Deutschland
Europeana - Italia
  • A Brief History of the Twentieth Century
  • Czech tile: Europeana
  • Translated by Gerald Turner

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Our Assessment:

A- : unusual approach, but compelling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 26/4/2003 upj.
The NY Times Book Rev. . 5/6/2005 Anderson Tepper
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 17/7/2003 Karl Markus Gauß

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t unspools in a relentless monotone that becomes unexpectedly engaging, even frightening." - Anderson Tepper, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Europeana really is, as the subtitle explains, A Brief History of the Twentieth Century. A distinctive voice relates the story of the century (focussed almost entirely on Europe and the United States), but there is no additional embellishment -- no narrator musing on what it means to compress a century's worth of history into a little over a hundred pages, or characters discussing the implications of the events that are recounted. Arguably, it is not even fiction: in its presentation of (and reliance on) facts, events, and competing ideas it consists entirely of non-fiction. Yet it is undeniably a work of the imagination, and in the way he presents the material Ouředník challenges the reader in a way that a straightforward history-text does not.
       Europeana is not judgmental: events are often baffling (genocide, wars, ideologies, fads), but the narrator does not presume to say what is good or bad. Europeana is an account-book, collecting facts and information. Contradictory ideas -- especially that of bettering humanity by killing lots of people -- are a constant, but the narrator does not even bother to spell out the contradictions for the reader, opting instead merely to list, describe, and juxtapose. Any inferences are to be drawn by the reader (though some are made fairly obvious by the presentation).
       The book is divided into sections of a page or two in length, each a riff on some aspect of the twentieth century, or some specific events. The World Wars, various religions and ideologies, and technological advances are among the subjects frequently returned to, but from a variety of sides. A typical section progresses like this one:

Some historians preferred the Second World War to the First and said that the First World War was a national and patriotic war, while the second was for the defense of civilization. And in the First World War people were fighting for narrow-minded concepts that were already outdated, while in the Second World War they were defending a humanist ideal. After the Second World War people did not become pacifists and instead tended to speculate about whether a Third World War would occur between the democratic and the Communist countries. And there were spies snooping around everywhere. And the ministries of information pondered on ways of assisting the final victory. And scientists invented new weapons and new poison gas and atom bombs and warheads and carriers and bombs with parachutes and electromagnetic perturbations and neutron radiation and macromolecular cytotoxicity. And new words and expressions were invented to describe the new scientific discoveries and inventions, as well as the new social phenomena and theories, THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY and BLACK HOLE and TELEVISION and YUGOSLAVIA and CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY and RADIO and MODEM and DADAISM and SOCIOGENETICS and POSTMODERNISM and GENOCIDE and BIOETHICS and EUGENICS and TRANSGENETISM and CUBISM and EXOBIOLOGY and NUCLEAR DISINTEGRTAION and INTRA-PERSONAL RELATIONS, etc.
       The wondering narrator does occasionally peek through -- the observation that: "After the Second World War people did not become pacifists", for example, is a clear if subtle rebuke -- but s/he generally offers only the facts themselves. The only other device of note: the tired: "etc." that's frequently used to cut off what otherwise could be a catalogue of endless variations and possibilities.
       Any summary-description is bound to give the impression that Europeana is a very odd work -- and it is. It may sound like an awkward mix of fiction and non-fiction -- and lacking the best or at least vital qualities of each (plot and character in fiction, a clear, orderly presentation of facts in non-fiction) -- and a tiresome one at that, but it's absolutely compelling. Most of what is related is familiar material, but this presentation does allow -- or even demand -- the facts be reconsidered and recalled; especially in the connexions that are made as events, ideas, and fads are rattled off one after another. Compressing the century into so little space is also a reminder that while all these facts and events can be dissected and analysed at great length, and an endless number of motives and reasons can be found for every- and anything, they can also be reduced (largely in their foolishness) to such simplicity. Ourednik's novel is dry, but not without humour, and it's delightfully subversive without revelling in the absurdities and contradictions that defined the century too obviously
       Europeana probably isn't for everyone: the approach might prove very enervating to those not receptive to it, and that's fair enough. But Ouředník presents this material very well: it's not your usual fiction, but a compelling read nonetheless. Europeana is a convincing sum of that ugly century (at least from a European perspective). Certainly recommended.

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Europeana: Reviews: Other books by Patrik Ouředník under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Patrik Ouředník was born in 1957 and emigrated to France in 1984.

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