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Latest Review: "In Europe" by Geert Mak

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Jessica LeTourneur on Geert Mak’s In Europe, which came out a few years back in Sam Garrett’s translation from the Dutch.

In Europe is a book that’s been on my “to read” pile since 2007 or so. As Jessica mentions, it’s a huge book, but one that (based on the first 40 pages and her review) is incredibly engrossing. I know this got some decent attention when the hardcover came out, but I feel like it’s a book that deserves even more than that . . . Especially now that it’s available in paperback1.

Jessica LeTourneur studied literature, history, and journalism at the University of Missouri, and attended New York University’s Publishing Institute in 2005. In the past, Jessica has worked as a journalist, as well as at The Missouri Review, the University of Missouri Press, and W. W. Norton & Company. Currently, Jessica is the copyeditor for the journal Southern California Quarterly, and is finishing up her Master’s degree in History and Scholarly Publishing at Arizona State University.

Here’s the opening of her review:

In Europe is a heart wrenching, historically priceless, and utterly fascinating work of nonfiction. Part travelogue, part historical narrative, and part autobiography, it chronicles Dutch journalist Geert Mak’s year-long sojourn from January 1999–December 1999 around the European continent as a sort of “final inspection”. Far beyond simply recounting facts and dates, Mak beautifully individualizes and humanizes the often staggeringly horrific events that marred twentieth-century Europe. Mak’s seamless integration of historical factoids, firsthand interviews, and present-day impressions garnered throughout his journey make for a refreshingly original piece whose language and lessons continue to pervade the reader’s psyche long after the last page has been turned.

Commissioned by his employer, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, to tackle this daunting, monumental project, Mak’s articles appeared daily on the paper’s front page. Within In Europe, Mak flushes out of these articles into longer narrative pieces that fit into a cohesive work of nonfiction. Its narrative is framed as a historical journey, and as far as possible, Mak follows the chronological course of twentieth-century European history, “in search of the traces it has left behind.” Beginning in Paris in 1900 and ending in Sarajevo in 1999, Mak journeys throughout Europe’s major cities and countries with a frequently and deftness rivaling Jason Bourne. The essential question Mak seeks to answer throughout his travels and research is “what shape is the continent in, at the conclusion of the twentieth century?” Concluding his prologue, Mak reflects:

“Traveling across Europe, all those months, had been like peeling off layers of old paint. More than ever I realized how, generation upon generation, a shell of distance and alienation had developed between Eastern and Western Europeans.”

Click here to read the full review.

1 And yes, I know the cover image we’re using is from the hardcover, but the paperback version totally sucks.



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