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Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

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Told in an informal, mesmerizing voice, Ouredník represents the twentieth century in all its contradictions and grand illusions, demonstrating that nothing substantial has changed between 1900 and 1999—humanity is still hopeful for the future and still mired in age-old conflicts. As he demonstrates that nothing can be reduced to a single, true viewpoint, Ouredník mixes har Told in an informal, mesmerizing voice, Ouredník represents the twentieth century in all its contradictions and grand illusions, demonstrating that nothing substantial has changed between 1900 and 1999—humanity is still hopeful for the future and still mired in age-old conflicts. As he demonstrates that nothing can be reduced to a single, true viewpoint, Ouredník mixes hard facts and idiosyncratic observations, highlighting the horror and absurdity of the twentieth century and the further absurdity of attempting to narrate this history.


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Told in an informal, mesmerizing voice, Ouredník represents the twentieth century in all its contradictions and grand illusions, demonstrating that nothing substantial has changed between 1900 and 1999—humanity is still hopeful for the future and still mired in age-old conflicts. As he demonstrates that nothing can be reduced to a single, true viewpoint, Ouredník mixes har Told in an informal, mesmerizing voice, Ouredník represents the twentieth century in all its contradictions and grand illusions, demonstrating that nothing substantial has changed between 1900 and 1999—humanity is still hopeful for the future and still mired in age-old conflicts. As he demonstrates that nothing can be reduced to a single, true viewpoint, Ouredník mixes hard facts and idiosyncratic observations, highlighting the horror and absurdity of the twentieth century and the further absurdity of attempting to narrate this history.

30 review for Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

  1. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    It is hard to put a finger on what this book tries to do but it does something important. It narrates history in a detached way without giving any undue importance to the 'major' events. It is one of those rare instances when its brevity is the greatest strength of a historical narrative. It is not that it lacks in detail, don't get me wrong here. It does go on about how people did things to each other and developed theories about each other, about how people and nations thought and acted, about It is hard to put a finger on what this book tries to do but it does something important. It narrates history in a detached way without giving any undue importance to the 'major' events. It is one of those rare instances when its brevity is the greatest strength of a historical narrative. It is not that it lacks in detail, don't get me wrong here. It does go on about how people did things to each other and developed theories about each other, about how people and nations thought and acted, about large numbers and statistics of war, and about how absurd it all was. It never says in so many words that it was absurd, of course. But it makes you realize that when history is told by someone who has (or seems/ attempts to seem) no agenda or alliances or a spirit of inquiry or even an interest in educating the readers (etc.) but is just told, told as if it is just something that happened - then that narrative has the power to show you how small everything was and how collectively we are a bunch of such magnificent buffoons. There is a touch of Douglas Adams in there somewhere, in that humor and in the sad irony that keeps on putting a half-smile on the reader’s face despite the subject matter being dealt with (Hint: I am not talking of Adams’ sci-fi books here). It is only apt that Ouředník is also the translator of Beckett and Queneau and perhaps most pertinently, of Rabelais. This should be required reading for students of History - even as we learn about the great nations and the of great wars and of the heroes and of the generals and of the great science and its advances and of turning points and tragedies, we should also learns perspective and learn that history was just about a large bunch of people making decisions that would always seem absurd (like the proverbial best-laid schemes...) to everyone but themselves - either to other countries or at least to posterity . And that would be a valuable lesson... I am not doing justice to this, as I said it is hard to put a finger on what this book does. Just read it?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    Most 'experimental' literature fails, just as most scientific experiments fail to produce important data, and most experiments in the kitchen or even bedroom fail to spice up one's life. This doesn't keep anyone from trying again and again, just in case this time is the time. Well, Europeana is the time. Ourednik avoids every possible literary characteristic--no characters, no plot, no personal investment, no meditating, an absolutely minimal narrator--while somehow providing, nonetheless, all t Most 'experimental' literature fails, just as most scientific experiments fail to produce important data, and most experiments in the kitchen or even bedroom fail to spice up one's life. This doesn't keep anyone from trying again and again, just in case this time is the time. Well, Europeana is the time. Ourednik avoids every possible literary characteristic--no characters, no plot, no personal investment, no meditating, an absolutely minimal narrator--while somehow providing, nonetheless, all the literary pleasures. The book is a very vaguely chronological history of Europe (with the odd side-trip to the U.S. or rest of the world), mainly between the first world war and the end of the twentieth century. It's told as you might tell history to a child: "After the First World War, Communism and Fascism spread though Europe because lots of people believed that the old world was rotten and it was necessary to seek new paths, and that democratic rule was not capable of preventing a world war and that capitalism has proved the economic crisis." I don't remember a single critical comment (there's no, e.g., 'communists said x, but really did y') and very few negatives. Sentences get longish, but never complicated. Well, obviously it's grim reading at times, but you're never invited to wallow in the inhumanity-of-man-to-(wo)man silliness that much 'deep' contemporary literature prefers. The narrative voice is simply too neutral to create an overwhelming emotional response in that way. Instead, Ourednik makes the reader uncomfortable in their complicity, as on page 97: "And the Jehovah's Witnesses said that smoking and alcohol soil the blood and they refused to eat black pudding and blood sausage and refused blood transfusions because the mixing of blood contradicted divine ordinances, just like the consumption of blood sausage or alcohol or extramarital sex." Presumably you, like I did, are laughing at the foolishness of the blood sausage bit, at the very least, and most likely at all of these hopelessly illiberal, out of date ideas. Ourednik goes on, "And they refused to enlist in the army and said that they belonged to the Kingdom of God and worldly matters were no concern of theirs," which you might think sounds vaguely sensible given the century we're dealing with, but also hopelessly naive and dangerously quietist. Then Ourednik throws in the kicker, as his sentence concludes, "and many of them died in the concentration camps in Germany and the Soviet Union because their attitude subverted the revolutionary ideal and propagated asocial and counterrevolutionary ideas in society." Yes. Exactly how much better are we than than the Nazis and Stalinists? There is a problem with the neutrality of the book's narrative: I'm not sure how much it could change anyone's ideas. I found many of my own concerns in the book, but then, almost anyone can find her concerns in a book this neutral and this distanced from judgment. But that's a minor complaint, and only those who refuse to think at all will find their entire world-view bolstered. There's also a danger in how much knowledge the book requires: if you don't know a bit of the history, you won't get too much out of it. And if you don't know much about the intellectual history, you'll miss the glorious destruction of the century's more obnoxious social sciences (particularly psychology) and philosophies. On the other hand, nobody can read everything, and this is a much better way to spend an afternoon than trying to read Talcott Parsons or Martin Heidegger.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Short, strange, rambling, horribly depressing look at the 20th century. Fads, statistics, efficiency, religion, better worlds, genocide, human perfection, sexuality, dying languages, industrialization, the death of God. Already familiar territory, but a strange and new presentation of the material.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    One of Raymond Federman's favorites: MT: Who is your favourite writer/book? What is the best thing you have read recently? RF: Beside Beckett, a whole list – Italo Calvino, John Coetzee, Céline, Proust, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Diderot, Laurence Sterne, La Fontaine, Racine, Shakespeare, Rabelais, Dante, Homer. But the best book I have read recently and which I highly recommend. Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century. An amazing b One of Raymond Federman's favorites: MT: Who is your favourite writer/book? What is the best thing you have read recently? RF: Beside Beckett, a whole list – Italo Calvino, John Coetzee, Céline, Proust, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Diderot, Laurence Sterne, La Fontaine, Racine, Shakespeare, Rabelais, Dante, Homer. But the best book I have read recently and which I highly recommend. Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century. An amazing book – not history. A kind of novel that defies categorization. http://www.readysteadybook.com/Articl...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    I wanted to love this. I really did. A detached voice recounting the horrors of the first half of the 20th century is like, my literary bread and butter. While Ourednik's style is delightfully informal, and his ability to show linkages and disparities between different events has a really strong sense of ironic timing, this kind of feels like a re-hash of so much I've already read about this particular time and mood of modern history from writers with far more powerful, obsessive visions. Sure, I wanted to love this. I really did. A detached voice recounting the horrors of the first half of the 20th century is like, my literary bread and butter. While Ourednik's style is delightfully informal, and his ability to show linkages and disparities between different events has a really strong sense of ironic timing, this kind of feels like a re-hash of so much I've already read about this particular time and mood of modern history from writers with far more powerful, obsessive visions. Sure, he's got the tar-black irreverence of people like Heller, Vonnegut and Celine and the sense of remembrance, of the importance of excavating the past, of writers like W.G. Sebald and Tony Judt, but this just seems like someone copying their ideas and styles instead of really propelling them into new terrain. Maybe I've just spent too much time with my nose buried in similar material to be shaken or impressed by more of it, even if it's well written, which Europeana is.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Conclusion: Human beings are ridiculous creatures.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Living Belowtheclouds

    This is one of my favorite books ever. I recommend it. It is frenetic and I find humor in it. It makes me think about life and about human stupidity

  8. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    I'm not as drivellingly crazy about this as most Goodreaders seem to be, but it is a funny and horrifying little mini-history using Czech irony (such a thing exists) to make its impact. The history isn't presented in any logical order. Some parts juxtapose others, such as the Holocaust next to Bill Clinton's (non-)affair, or Dadaism beside detailed parts on eugenics and so on. The tone is slightly childish, most sentences starting with "and then . . . " as though being narrated by a grownup to a I'm not as drivellingly crazy about this as most Goodreaders seem to be, but it is a funny and horrifying little mini-history using Czech irony (such a thing exists) to make its impact. The history isn't presented in any logical order. Some parts juxtapose others, such as the Holocaust next to Bill Clinton's (non-)affair, or Dadaism beside detailed parts on eugenics and so on. The tone is slightly childish, most sentences starting with "and then . . . " as though being narrated by a grownup to a child. We're either encouraged to laugh at the absurdity of the world or see it as one elaborate joke. The result is a bizarre, funny and shocking (but not entirely useful) book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    To think of this as a novel is probably a mistake. It's closer to a lyric essay, told in sections that explain in a detached voice (and therefore sometimes trivializes) the key events and ideologies of the twentieth century. Everything's here: WWI, WWII, Genocide, technologies, the Sixties, the Holocaust, Communism, etc. The prose ambles and moves seeming from thought to thought, not in a linear fashion but in the ways that our brain leaps from thought to thought. In other words, it's told in a To think of this as a novel is probably a mistake. It's closer to a lyric essay, told in sections that explain in a detached voice (and therefore sometimes trivializes) the key events and ideologies of the twentieth century. Everything's here: WWI, WWII, Genocide, technologies, the Sixties, the Holocaust, Communism, etc. The prose ambles and moves seeming from thought to thought, not in a linear fashion but in the ways that our brain leaps from thought to thought. In other words, it's told in a kind of stream of consciousness structure, and in the midst of very general historical discussion zeros into very specific and often obscure and surprising anecdotes that will make your skin crawl. Some of those stories are made up, but only some, which makes this book a novel, I suppose. Though most of these details are verifiable facts, however suspect that term is these days. Recommended for fans of: history, lyric essays, experimental fiction, Holocaust studies, and critics of the book ideas of the last century.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mark Broadhead

    Europeana's subtitle is "A Brief History of the Twentieth Century". Not brief enough, I'd say. I didn't see the point of this experiment, other than to make Ourednik get up to speed on the last hundred years of factoids. To top it all, it isn't funny, it isn't interesting (if you know 20th century history at all), and it isn't literature (in the translation at least).

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    A short, artful "alien's-eye view" telling of the history of twentieth century in all its madness.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ethan

    Europeana brilliantly employs the word “and” to devastating effect.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    But other historians said that the twentieth century actually started earlier, that it began with the industrial revolution that disrupted the traditional world and that all this was the fault of locomotives and steamships. And yet others said that the twentieth century began when it was discovered that people come from apes and some people said they were less related to apes because they had developed more quickly. Then people started comparing languages and speculating about who had the most a But other historians said that the twentieth century actually started earlier, that it began with the industrial revolution that disrupted the traditional world and that all this was the fault of locomotives and steamships. And yet others said that the twentieth century began when it was discovered that people come from apes and some people said they were less related to apes because they had developed more quickly. Then people started comparing languages and speculating about who had the most advanced languages and who had moved furthest along the path of civilization. The majority thought it was the French because all sorts of interesting things happened in France and the French knew how to converse and used conjunctives and the pluperfect conditional and smiled at women seductively and women danced the cancan and painters invented impressions. But the Germans said that genuine civilization had to be simple and close to the people and that they had invented Romanticism and lots of German poets had written about love, and about the valleys where there lay mists. The Germans said they were the natural upholders of European civilization because they knew how to make war and carry on trade, and also to organize convivial entertainments. And they said the French were vain and the English were haughty and the Slavs did not have a proper language and language is the soul of a nation and Slavs did not need any nation or state because it would only confuse them. And the Slavs, on the other hand, said this was not true, that in fact their language was the oldest of all, and they could prove it. And the Germans called the French WORM EATERS and the French called the Germans CABBAGE HEADS. And the Russians said that the whole of Europe was decadent and that the Catholics and Protestants had completely ruined Europe and they proposed to throw the Turks out of Constantinople and then annex Europe so as to preserve the faith.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    Inside, Ourednik has put together, in page-long sections, capsule histories of the progress of events in Europe in the 20th century. These capsule histories are not randomly assembled, but neither are they sequential or otherwise "logically" structured (i.e., the structure itself is what differentiates this from capital-H History). The most interesting thing here is the book's classification as "Fiction." If the structure is what keeps it from being History, is it Ourednik's selection of events Inside, Ourednik has put together, in page-long sections, capsule histories of the progress of events in Europe in the 20th century. These capsule histories are not randomly assembled, but neither are they sequential or otherwise "logically" structured (i.e., the structure itself is what differentiates this from capital-H History). The most interesting thing here is the book's classification as "Fiction." If the structure is what keeps it from being History, is it Ourednik's selection of events that makes it Fiction? It is a bit strange to find myself saying that the most interesting part of a book that I liked, and enjoyed reading, so thoroughly as I did this one is, really, outside of the book after all, but because many of Ourednik's sections have to do with the way that History is perceived while it is being lived (as history), it was clearly intentional. In this sense, the book brings History down to history, but it also manages to do something else-- the novel as "history" (think of the 18th c. authors here, Fielding et al.) of a single man (or woman, or men, or women) standing in for Man in order to better encompass the time is exploded, and the myth stood on its head. By the end of it, we come to recognize "Germany" or "France" as a character just as "Tom Swift" or "Pip." But then, that is precisely what we must do when we are confronted by History.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    A book to reread many times. This extended, quirky essay is a unique take on the events of the 20th century. Written by a Czech author, his view of history of the world wars as well as life under totalitarianism are indelible. Whenever I'm between books and not sure what I want to read next, I pull out this book and reread random sections to give me inspiration. Truly one of the favorite books in my collection.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    A swirling absurdist overview of a century in which every small step for man and giant leap for mankind is often mirrored by an equally grand step backward. How much of the 20th century can be celebrated, and how much bemoaned? Are we better off now than we used to be? By the time you read the final, devastating sentence of this unique, odd, and beguiling book, you may feel very unsure of the answers.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Vaiva Sapetkaitė

    I liked the idea of this book, but actually later it gets monotonic. So at the beginning I was cheering that it is a wonderful book, later understood that the same things are intertangled over and over again and finally I just wanted to finish it faster :) Anyway, I am glad that I read "Europeana", because it is a good reminder of history and sometimes an absurd and irony of it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    compelling, sardonic, and devastating. a short novel expressing a non-linear history of the industrialized world in the twentieth century. fictionally fictional.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Neil Godfrey

    Just about every other sentence begins with "And." And I liked it!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jac

    Dismal and unconventional but honestly brilliant.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kobe Bryant

    Mostly depressing WW2 factoids

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aurora

    A strange and fascinating little book about the horrors and absurdities of the twentieth century.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Reuben

    Europeana is a scatterbrained run through the Twentieth Century that seemingly gives equal prescience to the psychology behind barbie dolls and the inhumanity behind the Holocaust. It's regarded a novel by Dalkey Archive, but that's debateable. The entire book is comprised of paragraphs following a like structure: "This happened. And then this happened. But some people thought this happened instead. Though perhaps this happened." If we believe there to be a plot, we have to take the brief histor Europeana is a scatterbrained run through the Twentieth Century that seemingly gives equal prescience to the psychology behind barbie dolls and the inhumanity behind the Holocaust. It's regarded a novel by Dalkey Archive, but that's debateable. The entire book is comprised of paragraphs following a like structure: "This happened. And then this happened. But some people thought this happened instead. Though perhaps this happened." If we believe there to be a plot, we have to take the brief history of the twentieth century to be that plot, and if we believe there to be characters, we have to take our historical actors as so. One thing I admired about this book was the way it portrayed events. For some Ouředník would run through many different theories regarding that episode by saying "X thinks this, but Y thinks that." but for others he would just treat an interpretation or theory as what had actually happened, sometimes repeating Nazi rhetoric as if it were truthful. It's so much more impactful for our narrator to present these abominable things as fact-like, than it is to constantly question them, as one's gut reaction to fascistic ideology (I would hope) is to virulently oppose it. This reaction is less likely when the opinions are tempered with qualifiers to show that the narrator does not agree with them. This narrator is barely present, and it's unclear who it is (though since this is billed as a novel and not a non-fiction book, I would hazard a guess that the identity of the narrator is important). Following on from the previous paragraph, you might say that the narrator is a collection of Twentieth Century voices fused together--or perhaps a reflection of which voice was shouting the loudest at any one given moment--or maybe, what an Alien would presume true after observing humans for the century. It's hard to tell, and I don't think pinning it down completely is necessary, but I do think that the constant discussions of relativity in the novel are there to draw a larger point about the truth being slippery and the human susceptibility to other 'truths'/perspectives. And this is ultimately what effect the book elicits--a kind of quagmire of truth and lies and progress and horror, swirling like the gunk at the bottom of a toilet bowl prior to flushing. The way the book juggles disparate conversations at the same time, often utilising irony and comedic comparisons, is just a reflection of the intense confusion of this era. If industrialism destroyed traditional values, and postmodernism destroyed objective truth, what does that mean for the veracity and integrity of one's internal thoughts and worldviews? The book ends by recounting Francis Fukuyama's 'End of History' theory, though like many of the other theories it proposes it does not openly admit this. It's not entirely clear whether or not Ouředník agrees with Fukuyama, or is just presenting him for consumption like a number of other theories. Certainly, to return to my flushing toilet metaphor, Fukuyama's theory might be appealing to someone trapped in the bog of history like our narrator. But still, the novel closes after describing Fukuyama's theory by saying: "But lots of people did not know the theory and continued to make history as if nothing had happened." Return to the relativity of reality? Decrying of Fukuyama's theory? Pessimistic observation on the human capacity to needlessly create waste-products? Difficult to tell. -------- I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I felt it focused far too heavily on Germany, Britain, and America. Yes, it's a BRIEF history of the twentieth century, and when it comes to conflicts these are the main players, but the fleeting discussions outside of that, such as regarding the Armenian genocide, were so interesting that it's a shame they were so sparse. Unfortunately Europeana suffers from my having studying a large amount of the history it recounts--when it says "someone thought this", and I'm able to name the theory and it's author, the effect of confusion and information overload Ouředník is trying to create gets weakened somewhat. It's still a worthwhile read regardless, and as an experimental novel I think it's a pretty solid success.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vampire Who Baked

    Behind the façade of facetiousness and black humour, this book carries a lot of weight, about history and historical memory and the conflicts between the historical memories of various communities. Instead of being a chronology of events, this book is more of a cyclic faux-chronology of contexts, all presented in a higgledy-piggledy David Markson-esque confused mass of recurring factoids. What really works for this book is the decidedly casual, detached tone in which the author describes the mos Behind the façade of facetiousness and black humour, this book carries a lot of weight, about history and historical memory and the conflicts between the historical memories of various communities. Instead of being a chronology of events, this book is more of a cyclic faux-chronology of contexts, all presented in a higgledy-piggledy David Markson-esque confused mass of recurring factoids. What really works for this book is the decidedly casual, detached tone in which the author describes the most horrific of events and ideas-- a technique that lends itself to be seen either as high satire, or as deadpan dark humour, or as a caricature of the readiness with which individuals and societies carried out the most heinous crimes, or as severe opprobrium on humanity that such events were ever allowed to take place. For example, right after describing how the fat from Jewish corpses were used to make soap during the Holocaust, the author proceeds to calmly provide a recipe for the soap, enumerating all the steps in gory detail. You might think-- how can you be so blasé about describing something so grotesque? But then you remember, an entire society had already carried out everything that was being spoken of, with the utmost casualness. Someone had to devise that recipe. Many had to follow that recipe day in and day out, from extracting the fat to the final step of adding the fragrance to remove the odour from the soap. And an entire country had to then use that soap knowing where it came from-- maybe not everyone used that soap, but does it make a difference? In a sense, the book describes the mundane, everyday nature of the darkness present in humanity and society as a whole-- not just the Holocaust, but all the wars and genocides before and after. Years after an event, it is comforting to relegate it to the dust-heap of the past-- to see it simply as a sequence of happenings too far away to understand or empathise with, occurring one after the other as if in a scripted narrative, with daily life brought to a halt in service of history. Well, the Holocaust did not happen in place of daily life, the Holocaust was daily life. And that is a disturbing thought-- a very disturbing thought. And to think that you were laughing with glee at the writing just moments before this realisation hit you.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    I really enyojed the way it was written and the attitude it was narrated with, but I feel like I would have to read this more then once to truly like it as I found it a bit hard to follow the line of thought sometimes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jakub Šulc

    Funny and unorthodox view on the last century. Hard facts are mixed up with cynicism and irony which make one realise, that history is subjective.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Smokin Joe

    Its okay. Fastpaced history of the 20th century. Its really not a history book, but rather a satire over humanity laced with the authors attitudes. It´s okay. Fastpaced history of the 20th century. It´s really not a history book, but rather a satire over humanity laced with the author´s attitudes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Muath Aziz

    This how history books should be written! So entertaining and full of social insights. But you need to have some background on First World War and Second World War to get going with the book, he jumps directly to things like "German soldiers and British ones exchanged cigarettes and chocolate using dogs that crossed the line between, one side had excessive chocolate but insufficient cigarettes and the other side had otherwise. The generals knew about it but they let it go."

  29. 5 out of 5

    J.I.

    This novel is a cycle. It tells you the history of the twentieth century over the course of the first eleven pages. It starts with WWI and moves through 2001, when terrorism really ushered in the 21st century. It starts with the industrial revolution. It tells the story of the twentieth century by telling you about the second world war and the ways in which we led up to it, and the ways in which we recovered from it. The twenty-first century didn't really begin until 2004. Or won't begin until l This novel is a cycle. It tells you the history of the twentieth century over the course of the first eleven pages. It starts with WWI and moves through 2001, when terrorism really ushered in the 21st century. It starts with the industrial revolution. It tells the story of the twentieth century by telling you about the second world war and the ways in which we led up to it, and the ways in which we recovered from it. The twenty-first century didn't really begin until 2004. Or won't begin until later, perhaps. Europeana tells you this in a cycle. It is the cycle of women's rights. It is the cycle of art, it is a cycle that keeps recyling material, while introducing new material. It is a postmodern pastiche which really, really works. It's also sometimes quite funny, with a sense of irony pervading, the smashing together of things, sometimes broad, sometimes specific, creating a discord, because the smashing together of things makes them feel related, or necessary to each other, and this is the point. The point is that making things related makes them seem inevitable, that history is necessarily linear because time is experienced thus, yet history is not linear, because one particular second does not necessarily follow the next when it comes to what happened, that history skips and leaps, and when we construct history, we are smashing things together, and sometimes it is true and sometimes it is ridiculous. This is a novel that is almost entirely a mashing of true things. It is a story without characters or an arc. It is wonderful and it is weird.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Orde

    This short book reads like one long list of weird statistical facts interwoven with very brief and mostly rather ridiculous or eerie anecdotes. There's no chronological order but it's all being hold together by the time frame of the twentieth century. Neither is there a topical specification but it skips back and forth between war-related, cultural, sociological and political snapshots without caring for how representational they would be nor trying to explain them. Thus there's the story about This short book reads like one long list of weird statistical facts interwoven with very brief and mostly rather ridiculous or eerie anecdotes. There's no chronological order but it's all being hold together by the time frame of the twentieth century. Neither is there a topical specification but it skips back and forth between war-related, cultural, sociological and political snapshots without caring for how representational they would be nor trying to explain them. Thus there's the story about the Barbie doll that appeared in 1986 "dressed in a striped concentration-camp uniform" (I tried to find a picture of that thing but without any results) and how it's manufacturers claimed against the ex-prisoner's protest that this would have an educational effect on little girls, or the story about some trained dog delivering chocolate in exchange for cognac between the German and the British soldiers at the front lines during WW I (which seems so human) while when the Austrian soldiers sent a cat to the Italians with a card saying that they were sending them a cat with a cigar, which was tied to the cat with a piece of string the Italians smoked the cigar and also ate the cat. So this is rather a bit funny and/or absurd. But then there's all that stuff about when sterilization laws were passed in the US and Europe or how psychoanalysis made everything to be about sex or how people used to go to zoological gardens to see live ethnographic spectacles with Papuans and Zulus dressed in loincloth and how they threw them candy. The over all impression very soon becomes that people do a lot of weird things and that the world we live in, at least the 20th century is pretty much some absurd event. This book gives some hints about how drastically things actually changed during that century - in a way we sometimes probably don't even realize - but it also works hard not to make any sense of the whole mess. And to a certain point I can see how that is justified in showing how absurd things really are in a way beyond our moral uppityness and how narrative may turn into some kind of excuse for people suffering and dying simply by explaining that it made sense somehow. But on the other hand I also got a little tired of this almost naive style of stringing together all those trivial and cruel and absurd events and facts because it seems just so post-modern, the person that's so aloof, reflecting about the vanities, idosyncrasies and the ignorance of those stuck in history as if we've learned so much and thus just ceased to make history and found our ideal in being super tolerant and nice because there's neither interests out there nor necessity.

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