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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Danube is a Long River, October 9, 2001
This review is from: Danube (Panther) (Paperback)
Danube
Claudio Magris
2001
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 There are endless literary and historical references, many of which are somewhat obscure.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. At the other extreme, Magris' description of visiting the terrible stone quarry at Mauthausen concentration camp that the Nazis set up on the Danube, where 110,000 people died, is disturbing.
On the whole, I would say this book is interesting reading in places. Elsewhere, it drags a bit. For example, consider a sentence such as, "Are the Istrians therefore Thracians, as Apollodorus thought, or Colchians, according to the view of Pliny and Strabo, or are they Gepids? "
Perhaps, the main problem with "Danube" is that the scope and coverage of the book are simply too great. The countries through which the lower reaches of the Danube flow do not have so much in common with those of the German-speaking part of the Danube. Like the Nile, it is a very long river, and, similarly it comes into contact with a number of lands with differing cultural traditions and histories. The Danube as an organizational theme for Magris' reflections about history and literature falters in the face of the great diversity of the material. Also, there is the question of if this book is really about the Danube or more a vehicle for Magris' wide-ranging interests.
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