A discursive account of the geography, ethnology, history, and literature of the area of Europe through which the Danube surges along its way from Bavaria to the Black Sea. Magris (German Literature/Univ. of Trieste) uses the travel format as a frame for his speculations about matters as diverse as the anti-Semitism of Câ€šline and the meaning of evil and nothingness. The trip proves heavy going all the way--with matters not helped by Magris' writing style. Labyrinthine sentences, arcane wordplay, recondite musings, abstruse bits of history confront the reader on nearly every page--e.g., describing the literary style of the obscure 18th-century writer Jean Paul as ""that sinuous, uneven, exasperatingly convoluted turn of phrase in which Ladislao Mittner perceived an attempt to reproduce in syntax the mobile nexus of the One-All."" For those steeped in the background of this little-known (at least to most Americans) corner of Europe, however, the work will offer stimulating and provocative insights. Magris considers the writings of Kafka and Freud, the philosophies of Wittgenstein and Marcus Aurelius, the histories of Belgrade and the Hapsburgs, and he does so with freshness and enthusiasm. Magris obviously has explored his material with nearly obsessive thoroughness, but has unfortunately chosen to approach his subject in a stream-of-consciousness manner. One topic suggests another, and the text meanders as willfully as the river that is its protagonist.