Books by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

LOST IN TIME by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 15, 2000

Enzensberger (Number Devil, 1998) sends a German teenager on a long, strange trip into the past that promises more than it delivers. Watching TV one afternoon, Robert rubs his eyes and suddenly finds himself shivering in 1956 Siberia. This is only the first of seven journeys that take him from an Australian movie set in 1946 to a clash between communists and Nazis in 1930 Germany. There are encounters with a suicidal Swedenborgian mystic in 1860, a flirtatious German princess in 1702, on to a battle in the Thirty Years War, and finally the studio of an early 17th-century Amsterdam painter. Along the way he occasionally meets a thinly disguised historical figure, picks up the rudiments of fencing, painting, and various languages, escapes several dangerous situations, and gets an insider's view of life in past ages. But he also finds shelter and friendship with suspicious ease; despite pervasive hints of an overall purpose to his journey, he arrives back in his own time neither older (though two subjective years have passed) nor much wiser than when he set out. Thankfully, he carries home physical evidence to show that it wasn't all a dream, but it's not a particularly meaningful odyssey either, and readers will be left with more questions than answers. (Fiction. 11-13)Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

Iconoclastic essays on the state and fate of the West at the end of a dreadful century. Did he not eschew the word, the German poet and essayist Enzensberger (Europe, Europe, 1989, etc.) might be termed a "postmodernist," for he speaks here of an era, modernity, that has exhausted itself. Unlike most postmodern thinkers, however, he writes well and coherently, and possesses a sense of humor. He is more bemused by the modern world than outraged (though well aware of its tragedies.) Enzensberger's targets are many, from politicians to the World Bank to intellectuals (with a nice take on the tooth of the narwhal, as well). Connecting these disparate subjects, however, is a gentle but penetrating attack on the shibboleths of the modern world; certainty, progress, perfectibility are all called into question. "Consistency," writes Enzensberger, "will turn any good cause into a bad one." A belief in progress, the inexorable march of time toward the great and perfect future—be it a classless society, the true Germany, the realm of freedom—has led to ruin time and again. Better, writes Enzensberger, is "normality," for within normality, the persistent attention to the details of everyday life, lies a common humanity and collective memory and wisdom that has been able to withstand all who would perfect us. And so, within these pages, we seem to bumble on, succeeding as a species despite, not because of, grand designs. Not all the essays here are of equal quality. Some topics are quite trivial (fashion in "The Street Theater of Rags"), others are overfamiliar (television in "The Zero Medium"). Also, many of the pieces have appeared in English in previous volumes. Still, the quality of writing and thought here is usually superior to better known and more celebrated contemporary social critics. In all, an eloquent defense of common sense, humanism, and thought. Read full book review >
Released: May 19, 1989

West German author Enzensberger, best known for his remarkable narrative poem "The Sinking of the Titanic" (1980), is in fine form here, reporting on his travels through a Europe that is being unified politically and economically from above while the people continue to resist uniformity and maintain their distinctiveness. Enzensberger's book begins and ends atypically: first, a visit to Sweden sparks an essaylike discussion of the social and intellectual results of the benevolent—but all-cont rolling —state; finally, a piece of fiction, purportedly written by an American journalist, describes Europe in the next millenium. In between (with reports on Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Poland, and Spain) is what the author does best: make his political observations stick by combining his extensive knowledge of history and current affairs with a dazzling array of anecdotes, strange encounters, and conversations. Most of the intellectuals he meets talk of their own countries with frustration and despair, while Enzensberger finds value in seemingly negative cliches about national character—e.g., the social acceptance in Italy of nonproductive idlers (fannulloni) becomes a model for work-ethic-oriented industralized Europe, where shrinking employment causes not just economic but emotional and psychological catastrophe for the unemployed. Throughout, he celebrates the chaotic, the irregular, the inefficient—traits that thwart planned development but also mean survival when big systems fail to work. Classy, insightful, and entertaining travel writing with a deeper message about Europe's future. Read full book review >