Results of the National Book Award in the year 2005.
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 Käthe Kollwitz, Anna Akhmatova, and the documentary filmmaker Roman Karmen. Europe Central is another high-wire act of fiction by a writer of prodigious talent.
In 1917 no one had ever seen a woman like the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. She regally stalked the streets of Greenwich Village wearing a bustle with a flashing taillight, a brassiere made from tomato cans, or a birdcage necklace; declaimed her poems to sailors in beer halls; and enthusiastically modeled in the nude for artists such as Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, setting the city ablaze with her antics. Before today’s outsized celebrities, there was the Baroness—poet and artist, proto-punk rocker, sexual libertine, fashion avatar, and troublemaker. At the center of the Dadaist circle, the Baroness transformed herself into a living, breathing work of art.
Holy Skirts is a vivid imagining of the Baroness’s story. Beginning in 1904, with Elsa’s burlesque performance onstage in Berlin’s Wintergarten cabaret, the adventures continue across Europe, through turbulent marriages and love affairs,…[more]
In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the dispossessed, and the triumphant. Only a master novelist could so powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.
The author of Ragtime, City of God, and The Book of Daniel has given us a magisterial work with an enormous cast of unforgettable characters–white and black, men, women, and children, unionists and rebels, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners. At the center is General Sherman himself; a beautiful freed slave girl named Pearl; a Union regimental…[more]
1974: A tiny band of self-styled urban guerrillas, calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army, abducts a newspaper heiress, who then abruptly announces that she has adopted the guerrilla name “Tania” and chosen to remain with her former captors. Has she been brainwashed? Coerced? Could she be sincere? Why would such a nice girl disavow her loving parents, her adoring fiancé, her comfortable home? Why would she suddenly adopt the SLA’s cri de coeur, “Death to the Fascist Insect that Preys Upon the Life of the People”? Soon most of the SLA are dead, killed in a suicidal confrontation with police in Los Angeles, forcing Tania and her two remaining comrades—the pompous and abusive General Teko and his duplicitous lieutenant, Yolanda—into hiding, where they will remain for the next sixteen months.
Trance, Christopher Sorrentino’s mesmerizing and brilliant second novel, traces this fugitive period, leading…[more]
As a teenager on the streets of San Francisco, Alison is discovered by a photographer and swept into the world of fashion-modeling in Paris and Rome. When her career crashes and a love affair ends disastrously, she moves to New York City to build a new life. There she meets Veronica—an older wisecracking eccentric with her own ideas about style, a proofreader who comes to work with a personal “office kit” and a plaque that reads “Still Anal After All These Years.” Improbably, the two women become friends. Their friendship will survive not only Alison’s reentry into the seductive nocturnal realm of fashion, but also Veronica’s terrible descent into the then-uncharted realm of AIDS. The memory of their friendship will continue to haunt Alison years later, when she, too, is aging and ill and is questioning the meaning of what she experienced and who she became during that time.
Masterfully layering time and space, thought and sensation, Mary Gaitskill dazzles the reader with psychological insight…[more]