The Capital

Robert Menasse, trans. from the German by Jamie Bulloch. Liveright, $27.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-63149-571-7
Menasse’s witty but humane satire, his English-language fiction debut (after Enraged Citizens, European Peace and Democratic Deficits), follows a sprawling, multinational cast grappling with the realities of European Union bureaucracy. Greek Fenia Xenapoulou detests her post as an executive of the budgetless, much-maligned culture department of the European Commission. She launches a desperate, determined effort for reassignment by proving herself with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Commission. Austrian Martin Susman, in a feverish haze after a visit to Auschwitz, proposes centering the concentration camp as the birthplace of the European Union, while his brother who inherited the family’s pig farm pressures him to improve the negotiating power of pig farmers with China. Meanwhile, Brussels police inspector Émile Brunfaut tries to discover why his murder investigation is being officially squashed by his superiors, and Polish seminarian-turned-assassin Ryszard Oswiecki realizes his victim (and focus of Brunfaut’s murder investigation) was the wrong person. Other characters include Auschwitz survivor David de Vriend, who mourns the diminishing number of fellow survivors, and Austrian professor Alois Erhart, who grows frustrated with his new think tank colleagues and their conservative goals. All the characters bumble through bureaucratic meddling, language differences, and competing ambitions toward an open-ended yet rewarding conclusion. The massive cast never becomes unwieldy thanks to Menasse’s delightful prose. This epic, droll account of contemporary Europe will be catnip for fans of mosaic novels and comical political machinations. (June)
Reviewed on : 03/26/2019
Release date: 06/18/2019
Genre: Fiction
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