- Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 6:00pmThe Book of Stolen Tales by D.J. McIntoshCarlton Cinema
- Sunday, May 26, 2013 - 10:00amGlobe & Mail/Ben McNally Books Authors' Brunch
- Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 6:30pmThe Fine Print Presents Miss Montreal by Howard ShrierThe Dora Keogh
- Saturday, June 1, 2013 - 2:00pmFictionKNITsta!Ben McNally Books
In Europe by Geert Mak
Knopf Publishing Group
In 1999 the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad commissioned Geert Mak to spend the last year of the millennium traveling the continent of Europe filing daily dispatches and taking stock of what the Twentieth Century had been, and what the present held, and the future portended. How had the places, so pivotal at some point during the course of the century, dealt with the past? Would there be any trace left, physical or cultural, of the momentous events?
His meanderings have now been reassembled into one magnificent book, and it is hard to imagine a more entertaining and illuminating encapsulation of a century, or a more intelligent and accessible companion than Geert Mak.
It is impossible to do justice to one hundred years of European history in a book, even one as thick as this, but this is a brilliant and engrossing embarkation point for anyone interested in history, or in Europe.
More impressively, this is a book to be read simply for the pleasure of its language. Either Heer Mak is one dazzling writer, or his translator, Sam Garrett, is a spectacular prose stylist; rarely does one encounter such consistently fluid writing. Scenes are set with stunning economy and brilliant precision. This is a treat from start to finish.
The book is arranged into twelve monthly sections, chronologically, with some overlap. In January (1900-1914), for example, the author visits Amsterdam, Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna. In November (1980-1989), his destinations are Berlin, Niesky, Gdansk, Moscow and Chernobyl.
More recent history proves to be as momentous and riveting as the first half of the century despite its two world wars. There is not a disappointing stop on the road, and the juxtaposition of then and now conveys emphatically the degree to which the past informs the present, but equally how the present informs the past.
By ranging the length and width (including Istanbul and Moscow) of Europe he brings all areas under his lens. This is a very personal book in a lot of ways, but the author's gaze is often unforgiving, his observations always incisive.
Interspersed are interviews with participants of pivotal events and occasionally a smattering of demographic data that only emphasize a particular, and often unexpected point of view. He is an engaged and engaging correspondent. His unerring ability to bring into focus the events and personalities that shaped our lives is singularly satisfying.
On every level this is a gratifying and illuminating trip with an informed and sensitive guide. In the end one cannot help but reflect on how much has changed, in Europe and elsewhere, since the millenium ended.
This is history at its most seductive, writing at the highest level.
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