8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2012
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. Enard filters whole civilizations through a whirlwind of run-on consciousness, not merely to show off intellectually, but to try and find traces of the endless volume of shadow lives and shadow histories that are what secretly support the conventional historical narratives that we all live in and reckon with. Zone is a book about moving forward, both in space and in time, about being shackled to history and how that, paradoxically, can make us free.(
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2012
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. This finally drives away his long-suffering fiance, and his only other relationship is with a fellow spy who reads only Proust and Celine, and sees her spy craft as a set of dry statistics to be compiled and analyzed: "that great Celine-ian pragmatism of the 1930s - 1940s according to which every problem calls for a solution". Her shock after watching a documentary on the Croatian war is as believable and depressing as the narrator's inability to show any remotely appropriate emotions when she announces she is pregnant with their child. And as readers we share with the narrator the book's location, "one foot in the gray Zone, the Zone of shadows and manipulators".
It is easy to have pat answers when you live in a shell of genteel civility. Move to the zone, to the cross-roads of violent history, and any easy solutions dissolve. While not a new or unique message, the lyricism and historical breadth with which this is told sets it apart.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2011
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.
on February 23, 2015
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.