What is lightning vapor

Vollmann reading in Berlin : Bloodlands

If books could design their authors' forms, William T. Vollmann would be a shaman or an exorcist. One ear in hell, the other at the gates of heaven, in between lightning, steam and thunder. So he should appear, while the man who presents his epic “Europe Central” in Babylon Mitte is an extremely rustic, even squat appearance. Measured by his productivity, you can at most trust him to have berserking spells.

From this book, the high point of the year, says his Graz colleague Clemens Setz, business can only go downhill - or for its author up to the Nobel Prize. Vollmann listens with friendly indifference as his interlocutor pays homage to him while sliding on his knees, and willingly gives information about totalitarian guilt and atonement in his novel.

What hasn't he heard in the last few days. He is a genius and his novel is a masterpiece. In fact, he is looking for the mysterium tremendum of evil with a sophistication that, for example, Jonathan Littell's "well-meaning" lacks. And yet in all the hymns you can also hear the longing for a new outstanding figure. Habemus Vollmann.

Theological aspects can be found in abundance. “Something keeps making me take the blame for what God has done,” says German Colonel Hagen, one of the main defendants at the Nuremberg Trials. “And what if this something is also a part of me?” And he also says: “The role of Germans in Europe is to take the blame for everything. We commit crimes so that you others can feel pure. "

In the chapter “The Hagen Company”, Vollmann drives a tunnel through literature from the Nibelungenlied to Dostoevsky, from Wolfsschanze to ruined Berlin, on just five pages. In general, the resonance space of this book is of cathedral-like breadth. Wassili Grossman's Stalingrad novel “Life and Fate”, Warlam Shalamov's camp stories from Kolyma or the anstistalinist “Tomb for Boris Dawidowitsch” by Danilo Kiš, to whose memory the novel is dedicated - not to mention Tolstoy's “War and Peace”: all of this resonates and blurs sometimes in the echoing pomp of the covers.

“If a regime is evil, to what extent is the individual evil?” That is one of the many undecidable questions that he examines in both the figure of SS officer Kurt Gerstein and that of Shostakovich. You don't have to tell him that his moral dilemmas are sometimes almost unbearable: "I've tried so many happy endings, but a story only ends when it includes what it has to stop with: death." Gregor Dotzauer

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