William T. Vollmann is the author of ten novels, including Europe Central, which won the National Book Award. He has also written four collections of stories, including The Atlas, which won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a memoir, and six works of nonfiction, including Rising Up and Rising Down and Imperial, both of which were finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Harpers, Esquire, Granta, and many other publications.
In the small set of America's best contemporary novelists, Vollmann is the perpetual comet. Every two years or so he flashes across the sky with another incredibly learned, incredibly written, incredibly long novel. Two years ago, with Argall, he easily bested John Barth in the writing of 17th-century prose while taking up the tired story of the settlement of Jamestown and making it absolutely riveting. His latest departs from his usual themes-the borders between natives and Westerners, or prostitutes and johns-to take on Central Europe in the 20th century. "The winged figures on the bridges of Berlin are now mostly flown, for certain things went wrong in Europe...." What went wrong is captured in profiles of real persons (Kathe Kollwitz, Kurt Gerstein, Dmitri Shostakovich, General Paulus and General Vlasov) as well as mythic personages (a shape-shifting Nazi communications officer and creatures from the German mythology Wagner incorporated into his operas). Operation Barbarossa-the German advance into Russia in 1941, and the subsequent German defeat at Stalingrad and Kursk-is central here, with the prewar and postwar scenes radiating out from it, as though the war were primary, not the nations engaged in it. The strongest chapter is a retelling of Kurt Gerstein's life; Gerstein was the SS officer who tried to warn the world about the concentration camps while working as the SS supply agent for the gas chambers. The weakest sections of the book are devoted to the love triangle between Shostakovich, Elena Konstantinovskaya and film director Roman Karmen. Throughout, Vollman develops counternarratives to memorialize those millions who paid the penalties of history. Few American writers infuse their writing with similar urgency. Agent, Susan Golomb. 5-city author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The daring Vollman forges a chain of paired stories highlighting similarities between authoritarian Germany and the USSR. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
His most welcoming work, possibly his best book . . . part novel
and part stories, virtuoso historical remembrance and focused study
- The New York Times Book Review A jarring, haunting, absurdly ambitious symphony of a book . . . It has an emotional force capable of ripping almost any reader from his moorings. . . . Vollmann has done as much as anyone in recent memory to return moral seriousness to American fiction.
- Steve Kettmann, San Francisco Chronicle Resembles War and Peace not merely in its scope, but in its perception of history as a determining force that individual lives merely illustrate . . . Aspires to the highest possible potential of literature.
- Melvin Jules Bukiet, Los Angeles Times A grimly magnificent dramatization of the impossible moral choices forced on individuals by these totalitarian regimes . . . if you have been following Vollmann's extraordinary career, Europe Central may be his best novel ever.
- Steven Moore, The Washington Post Profound . . . Vollmann asks us to put aside what we think we know of history and immerse ourselves in it once again.
- John Freeman, The Boston Globe