An international bestseller, this epic work follows the flow of time through European locales almost as a geologist follows a riverbed.
Dutch journalist Mak (Amsterdam, 2000, etc.) walks the streets—from Paris, London, Berlin and Rome to Stalingrad, Srebenica and Sarajevo—haunting the libraries and reading rooms, looking into faces that reveal like maps the traces of what has gone by. He is simultaneously a tourist, detective and storyteller: The broad, beautiful boulevards and arterials of Paris or Vienna, for example, were not planned primarily on the basis of aesthetics, he reminds us; their purpose was to move an army speedily to any site of riot or rebellion. Out of such stories flows a compelling vision of a fractured, segmented, yet terminally conjoined Europe, where socialized humanity strives on as its leaders continually fail. At one of Europe’s bloodiest World War I battlefields, Ypres, where half of Corporal Adolf Hitler’s unit was wiped out as the allies checked Germany’s advance for good, Mak simply wonders out loud why there couldn’t have been one more marker among those in the “H” section of the expansive German graveyard. He neatly fits crucial information into such contexts with sometimes disarming familiarity. For example, Mak points to the desperate pleas for restraint exchanged between Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas of Russia during the panic preceding the First War; signed “Cousin Willy” and “Cousin Nicky,” the letters reflect the helplessness of an interrelated royalty in the clutch of larger forces. The Hapsburgs vaporized, leaving behind century-defying animosities that Mak reminds us flamed up again in World War II and even into the 1990s in Bosnia. The gap between have-not Eastern Europe and the haves in the West continues to widen, he warns.
An adventure in history packed with details—some intimate, some surprising, some shocking, and all convergent into an essential, coherent story of modern Europe.