Audacious. Wildly ambitious. Prolific. All describe William T. Vollmann, author of the seven-volume nonfiction work Rising Up and Rising Down and “Seven Dreams” sequence of novels, which the Chicago Tribune hailed as “likely to become one of the masterpieces of the century.”
In Europe Central, Vollmann presents a mesmerizing series of intertwined paired stories that compare and contrast the moral decisions made by various figures — some famous, some infamous, some unknown — associated with the warring authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the twentieth century. He conjures up two generals, one Russian and one German, who collaborate with the enemy for different reasons and with different results. Another pairing tells of two heroes — a female Russian partisan martyred at the beginning of World War II and a young German man who joins the SS in order to reveal its secrets and halt its crimes. Several stories concern the complex and elusive Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Stalinist assaults against his work and life; also explored are the fates of artists and poets such as K?the Kollwitz, Anna Akhmatova, and the documentary filmmaker Roman Karmen. Europe Central is another high-wire act of fiction by a writer of prodigious talent.