Juxtaposing East and West and blurring Barbie and Buchenwald, Ourednik’s stream of historical consciousness shreds familiar narrative trajectories and compresses 100 years of still-fresh history into a roughly equivalent number of pages. The result is a self-consciously absurd melange of grandiose vision, junk science, and casually quantified atrocity, an autistic narration of sociological fact with the barest sense of moral gravity. It is a reminder of how horrifying and inscrutable the past century has been. But, like many modernist works pursuing perspective through distortion, this one is helped along considerably by its wit. Czech-born Ourednik has spent the last 20 years in France, and his existentialist bent fits surprisingly well with his linguistic playfulness and his Communist-era gallows humor. The author’s professed affinity for Vonnegut and Flaubert is evident, and fans of those authors may particularly enjoy this book’s wry cry for a more humane twenty-first century. Pithy, occasionally poignant, and not just for Europeanists.
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