Speaking of bedtime reading, I am relieved to – it seems nearly a year later – finally return to Vollmann’s now plaudited Europe Central.

I just completed a fugue-like pair of chapters relating the sorry histories of General Vlasov and Field Marshal Paulus, sympathetic yet ironically distanced recountings of war’s toll on (in these chapters) those who would be great men. Deliciously constructed and arch in tone Vollmann still manages to gain our sympathies for these characters, one a turncoat Russian, the other a German general who was promoted to the highest Wermacht rank by Hitler on the day before his capture by the Russians, who had encircled his unsupplied remnant of an army at Stalingrad.

Vollmann’s point seems to be something along the lines of ‘war is bad,’ but as ever, his apparent simplicity and insistent naivete are suspect: there’s more going on here than meets the eye. What it is, I’m not yet sure.

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