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Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea Hardcover – September 15, 1989

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews Review

This is a very Italian book, reminiscent of Italo Calvino and Roberto Calasso. Part history, part philosophy, part travelogue, this is literature in the richest, most amply rewarding sense. Writing with tremendous exuberance, Claudio Magris has produced a paean to what Hölderlin called "the river of melody"--the Danube, Europe's main artery, and the heart of that elusive but fascinating zone known as Mitteleuropa. Magris is certainly erudite, and not afraid of displaying his erudition, but he also has a fine sense of humor and an eye for the absurd. According to one eminent sedimentologist, he tells us, the source of the Danube is a leaky tap in a remote mountain farmhouse. And of course, the one color it isn't, ever, is blue. The Hungarians call it blond, apparently. "Muddy yellow" might be more accurate, says the author. His greatest passion, however, is people: poets, singers, murderers, emperors, Dracula, Kafka, Wittgenstein , Josef Mengele--all human life is here. And it makes doubly fascinating reading for having been written back in 1986, when brutes like Ceaucescu were still in power and the Iron Curtain was still in place, though beginning to tremble slightly in the wind of history. --Christopher Hart, --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

More than a thoroughfare linking Europe and Asia, the Danube, for Magris, is symbol and nourisher of a hinterland, a Germanic/Magyar/Slavic/Jewish/Central European culture counterposed to northern and western Europe. As he follows the river from the Bavarian hills to the Black Sea, lingering at villages, castles, Viennese cafes, ancient ruins and cemeteries, the author, a professor of German literature at the University of Trieste, offers a sustained, rich, often profound meditation on diverse themes: the tension between Greco-Roman and Teutonic civilization, the roots of fascism, Napoleon as a personification of modern, clashing nationalisms, etc. We read of Hapsburg splendor and decline, Nazi evil, Slavic soul-searching, Rumania as melting-pot of races and cultures. This sequence of stately tableaux is steeped in cultural and historical references to the likes of Kafka and Kepler, Haydn, Heidegger, Elias Canetti, George Konrad, Vasko Popa.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st American ed edition (September 15, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374134650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374134655
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It really makes you want to make the same trip.
Guillermo Maynez
This may be, but that's no excuse for what might to some seem like an inability to stay on any kind of track.
Susan Liddell
This book is an excellent primer for those interested in the history of the area.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By J. Rabideau on April 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
Magris's account of the journey, from its obscure and contested origins in Germany (Donaueschingen? Brigach? Furtwangen?), to the Black Sea is alternatingly scintillating and impenetrably dense. It is fully possible that many of the stylistic difficulties that occur hear arise out of the translation process.
Despite the occasional obfuscation, this is a deeply intriguing book. I picked it up, thinking that it may perhaps successfully do for the Donau (Danube) what Rebecca West's monumental "Black lamb and Grey Falcon" did for Yugoslavia, namely to serve as a marvelous compilation of historical narratives and anecdotes, sort of a "reference point for the ages". In this, "Danube" does not disappoint. There may be thousands of more readable books, but this one is rare, in that it blends so wonderfully narrative, history, and anecdote. Ultimately even the denseness of the prose may be a reduces the reader's speed, allowing us to better digest and reflect upon its contents. I recommend it.
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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Ron Hunka on October 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Claudio Magris
ISBN 1-86046-823-3
I have seen the Danube at Donauwoerth in Germany and Linz and Melk in Austria. When I came across Claudio Magris' book, I was interested enough to buy it. Magris' book about the Danube is an unusual one. It is not a travel book, but more the historical reflections of a man visiting centuries-old towns along the river from where it originates in Germany to where it ends in the Black Sea in Rumania.
Since I have visited or read about some of the towns along the Danube in the German-speaking world, I found that part of the book more interesting. I knew less about the other countries -- Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Rumania, and I did not relate as well to that part of the book.
On the whole, there are some obstacles to overcome in reading this book. The writer's style is rather wordy and rambling. In one sentence, for example, I counted seventy-five words. There are endless literary and historical references, many of which are somewhat obscure. For me, eventually they grew tiresome. The book, in English, is a translated work. At points, one wonders if the rendering of sentences such as, "That life which the photograph fixed in one of its instants is vanished forever", could not have been translated in plainer English.
Still, some of this book is good reading. Magris' story about the director of the river works at Linz who spent a lifetime marking out the confines of the upper Danube and wrote a three volume work of 2,164 pages about all the aspects of the river from the different types of rafts and barges to the poems, songs, plays, and novels that related to the river is amusing.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on June 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this fascinating journey, Magris takes us from the very -and much disputed- sources of the Danube in the Black Forest, in Southern Germany, to the mouth of the river in the Black Sea, in Romanian territory. Along the way, Magris recreates the legends, stories and historical moments of every village and city he visits. The Danube area is, of course, full of history, since most peoples who ever set foot in Europe seem to have crossed it one way or another. Princes, wars, writers, lovers, many interesting and even fascinating stories illuminate for the reader the waters of the Danube. It really makes you want to make the same trip.

It would be interesting to read an update by Magris, especially about those places who were then under Soviet rule, now that almost 20 years have passed since the publication of the book. Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia all pass before your eyes like a dream.

Every town and story motivates in Magris deep reflections on history, memory, the passage of time, politics, and many other subjects. Magris's prose is dense in the best sense of the term: it is rich and deep, with a poetic quality to it. Very much recommended, it discovers for us many writers from that area who seem worth to read.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By P. Lozar on June 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
Throughout history, the Danube has meant many different things to many different people: a highway, a playground, a barrier against the Turks, a symbol of eternal life or of life's melancholy. Magris structures this book as a travelogue, following the Danube from its source(s) in Germany through its debouchment into the Black Sea in Rumania. But in every place he visits, from a humble bench on the riverbank to the major cities of Vienna and Bucharest, he paints a vivid picture not only of the place itself, but of the people who have shaped its character and history.

I already knew that this region (for which he uses the shorthand term Mitteleuropa) had a complicated history, but I didn't realize how incredibly complicated it was until I read this book. Magris doesn't always untangle the complexities clearly enough for a non-European (and, from living briefly in the region as well as having family roots there, I'm probably better informed than most). On the other hand, his portraits of the people he meets are vivid and memorable -- from the old woman who presides over the 18th-century farmhouse where the Danube (possibly) rises, to the fisher-folk who live at the mouths of the river, to the functionaries and innkeepers who punctuate his journey and the friends who accompany him for parts of it. Writers, living and dead, are evoked as much as politicians and historians; one persistent theme of the book is how literature has reacted to, preserved, and in some instances shaped the history of Mitteleuropa.

All in all, the book is a magnificent achievement and well worth reading, even if some of Magris' observations have been rendered obsolete by the breakup of the Soviet Union.
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