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Zone Paperback – December 15, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Homeric in its scope and grandeur, remarkable in its detail, Énard's American debut is a screaming take on history, war, and violence. Francis Servain Mirkovic, the son of a French father and a Croatian mother, is a spy whose job it is to resell stolen secrets to their legitimate owners. His "Zone" is the Mediterranean. It is the early 21st century and he is on his last mission, taking a train from Milan to Rome under a fake name and revisiting, in a blistering stream-of-consciousness (periods are few and far between), his childhood, his career, and various women, among them Sashka, the Russian painter he plans to meet in Rome; Marianne, from his youth; and Stéphanie, his fellow agent. Weighing heavily on him is his time with the Croatian army during the "Yugoslav madness," where he witnessed and took part in atrocities. As Francis's train speeds along, his story picks up momentum, becoming nearly frantic by the final stretch. Mandell's translation of the extravagant text is stunning. (Dec.) (c)
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"Homeric in its scope and grandeur, remarkable in its detail, Énard's American debut is a screaming take on history, war, and violence ... Mandell's translation of the extravagant text is stunning."—Publishers Weekly

"Frenchman Mathias Énard’s Zone, released in France in 2008 and just out from Open Letter, has earned abundant and varied praise. Already the proclaimed darling of French critics and awards, the novel is poised to make a startling impression upon its audience in America. It's a one-sentence wonder; a spy thriller; a miniature history of the Mediterranean; intellectually dense and historically expansive; an overwhelmingly exquisite and trying tome."—Words Without Borders

"One does not so much read this book as become absorbed in it. The cacophony of images is vast and chaotic, yet this is a kind of bewilderment that engages, instilling a desire for repeat readings in order to gain a clearer view ... At length, Zone comes to feel like a book that has contained multitudes, one that can support a hundred theories and spark a hundred arguments ... a startling, stimulating read, a document that should stand out as a memorable part of the long history of its setting."—Scott Esposito, The National

"Move over, James Joyce and all other pretenders. The new owner of the record for longest sentence in published literature is Mathias Enard for his 517-page French novel "Zone." In fact, the entire novel, except for a few pages of flash backs, is made up of a single 150,000-word sentence."—Patrick T. Reardon, Oklahoma City Newspaper

"Énard takes up the challenge of writing an endless sentence by including only one period in his long novel. This ambitious gamble won Énard considerable praise in France, and now, with Charlotte Mandell’s lucid translation, readers of English can evaluate his text and larger mythic framework ... Though the reader is marooned in Mirkovic’s consciousness for more than 500 pages, the boundaries of his skull do not feel claustrophobic, because the mind at work in the novel is remarkably elastic ... this millennial archive also measures guilt — it passes sentence, as it were, on both the regrets and memories of Énard’s narrator and the larger guilt and shame that he describes as “the weight of Western civilization.”"—Stephen Burn, The New York TImes

"Zone is a documentary novel. While throughout its pages, it invokes acontinually the sources of Western lliterature vis-á-vis the ancient myths, it all the same reflects our age's curatorial impulses to preserve information lest it be forgotten over the course of the nest news cycle. It is, in short, one of the best books of the year."—Christopher Byrd, The Daily Beast

" of the more breathlessly received French novels of recent years, now elegantly translated into English by Charlotte Mandell ... the author is less interested in the conventional tale of cross and double-cross than with the psychology of betrayal. So, instead of a Bond-style spectacle, we get a meditation on honour, belief, fealty, and patriotism. In place of an espionage thriller we find a historical and philosophical investigation into the human propensity to bend high ideals into justifications for bloodshed and tribal hatred."—Geordie Williamson, The Australian

"Only rarely is a novel ambitious enough to contribute to the general discourse on the novel, as if one book could illuminate them all. Yet, “Zone,” which draws equally from the French- and English-language novelistic traditions, is perhaps capable of telling us something about one possible shape the novel may take going forward. Formally ambitious and with a deep sense of political engagement, “Zone” is brilliant but imperfect, a virtuosic showcase of memory, consciousness, and the lingering effects of political conflict from the Spanish Civil War to the crisis in Palestine ... Buoyed by powerful, stark prose and an acute sense of empathy, “Zone” carries the novel forward as unstoppably as the history it seeks to describe."—David S. Wallace, The Harvard Crimson

"...The books should be a disaster, a pretentious mess. But somehow, miraculously, it's not. It's compulsively readable, thoroughly compelling, and, to my way of thinking, the most exciting and interesting new work of literature I've read in a long time."—Dennis Abrams, Publishing Perspectives

"Zone is a contemporary Homeric epic, 500 pages of one sentence–and it works. Enard’s message is that no matter where the conflict takes place and what the issues are, the human atrocities are the same."—Olive Mullet, New Pages

"As Énard weaves these pieces into his feverish monologue, one gets the sense of history as something geological, a succession of ruins and conflicts laid upon one another like layers of rock. The dead are the incriminating fossils perpetually finding their way to the surface."—Jacob Silverman, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Énard plumbs the depths of human cruelty to create a work of extraordinary moral gravity and literary power, a novel that deserves a place among the great works of war literature."—Michael Andrews, Bomb Magazine

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 517 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter (December 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824267
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824269
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By jafrank on February 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
Zone is a remarkable book. The premise of the whole thing will seem like an almost eye-rolling cliche, a jaded intelligence operative is on a train from Milan to Rome to sell a handcuffed suitcase full of intelligence secrets before he leaves the spy business forever. That train ride is all that 'happens,' conventionally speaking. But the torrent of memories, historical facts, and nightmarish complicities that unfold in an unstoppable bum-rush from his head is as delerious and sweeping as almost anything I've ever read. Like W.G. sebald, Enard is interested in worming down into the bizarre resonances of history, by showing the cross linkages between cycles of destruction, war, and erasure. Yet unlike Sebald, whose work is so grounded by specific geographic locales and his photo-montages, Enard just flows ever outward, sucking more and more of the world through the exhausted, haunted mind of his protagonist. Zone is a total book. It tries to incorporate the whole history of Europe, Northern Africa, the Near Middle East, any place that in any way touches the Mediterranean basin gets pulled in. The range of references to literature and to (at least for a young american) obscurant, often monstrous geopolitical issues in this book is overwhelming. And I do mean overwhelming. Almost every page had me running to try and find a map of croatia or some information about a forgotten turkish war hero, or a minor bosnian war criminal, or trying to tease apart some weird reference to the battle of troy. Yet for it's deluge of erudition, the book never feels like it's just an intellectual dick measuring contest the way that a lot of sprawling high modernist stuff is.Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By las cosas on January 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
The set piece of this novel is a 517 kilometer train trip from Milan to Rome told in a one-sentence, 517 page novel. And before you sigh...not one of those things!...let me assure you the narrative moves briskly and there are none of the affectations of an academy novel you might associate with the one sentence schtick. The narrator (who, like the author, is a French-born Croat) left his Paris home as a youth to fight with the Croatian rebels in 1993 and then works a decade for French intelligence. During that time he assiduously compiles a record of everything he can find pertaining to the Zone, and is now delivering those files to the Vatican in exchange for his 30 pieces of gold. And that zone runs from Yugoslavia to Israel to Greece, from his grandfathers' war years, one as an early Ustashi, the other a French resistance fighter to his father's role as an interrogator in Algeria, to the atrocities he committed in Croatia.

Interwoven with the narrator's personal history is the history of the region, bristling with interesting facts, and made alive by a wonderfully dreamy narrative that is extremely evocative of the semi-trance one enters on a long train ride: "I feel as if I'm floating all of a sudden, the train is passing over a series of switches and is dancing, the lights of the countryside pirouette around us in a random ballet that makes me nauseous or is it the memory of the war".

After leaving Croatia he travels to Venice, la serinissima, but finds only adventure novels and nights filled with liquor and the war stories of a Lebanese exile.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Sarvi Sheybany on March 29, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good books lay out the rules for you. Bad books fail to follow their own rules, or never lay them out at all. This book does a good job of laying out the rules: the book will be something you experience as much as something you understand, the book will build by slow accretion, the book will have meaningful rest points for you to collect yourself and your thoughts. I found it took me a while to figure out these rules, especially the third one, but that once I did, the book followed them faithfully and the rewards were proportionate to the effort required to read it. Some passages were gruesome and painful to read, but they weren't gratuitous or exploitative, they were appropriate to the subject. I would be interested to read more from this writer. If you've already read some Bernhard, Joyce, or Proust, this book will not be too challenging as far as the form it uses, which does required sustained concentration.
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By Alan M on February 23, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great books teach you how to read them. A 500-plus page novel in a single sentence that spends a great deal of 20th-century Yugoslavian history while also referencing William Burroughs and sundry other cultural landmarks. All set on a train from Milan to Rome and narrated by a man carrying a suitcase to the Vatican full of ? If you haven't already decided that this isn't your kind of novel, then there's not much more I can say. The shady narrator, the seamless interweaving of past and present draw you in, Even though his new novel doesn't have a single review, I'm willing to pick it up on the basis of Zone. The book is broken into chapters and I read a chapter or two every day. I'm sure I'll read it again some day.
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