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). he creates a polyphony of human voices that sing in deep keys of memory.” and his own bio-historical portrait of the twentieth century (De eeuw van mijn vader. apartments. In In Europe we have Jorwerd. Based on a vast mingling of lives. times. he explores Europe’s prospects for the future. 1999. has assumed a moral if diminished political role while military leadership has passed to Atlantic America. The unanswered question remains how the Atlantic world will manage both the moral and strategic responsibilities and still resolve the issues of environment. poverty. and villages to cemeteries. Every twentieth-century historian must have at least one favorite journalist. during which he crisscrossed Europe. race. 2007. long-time socialist and pacifist leanings. suspicion. whose skill and sensibility rests on academic training in sociology. bitterness. In interviews of the famous and the ordinary. and Ogborn–has bequeathed it. covering its loss of autonomy. old rural way of life and. having shaken the habit of war. Mak centers his work around a single year of travel. The George Washington University & Quinnipiac College of Law Albert J. Stopping at sixty-six places big and small. With a poignant pointillism. Constant in his testimony to the personal. Schmidt In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century. Based on a long residence in the small Friesland village of Jorwerd. and a liberal disposition to side with the outsider and victim. . Eastern European voices sing the commanding bass conscience of what Europe suffered during the past century and what is still to be tested in the century ahead. Mak weaves individual lives into a compelling chronology of a century’s tragic events. 879 pp. battlefields. In recent years. Mingling the testimonies of the living and the dead. Mine is contemporary Dutch journalist and historian Geert Mak. Mak’s shifting spatio-chronological frame moves from large towns. and yet achievement and hope. Benjamin. abandoned buildings. and political instability that history–so eloquently narrated by Cunliffe. cafes. and historical works. By Geert Mak (New York: Pantheon Books. “The Age of My Father”) writ large. minorities. his travels covered the continent from Madrid to Moscow and from Gdansk to Sarajevo. In Europe displays a mastery of journalism and contemporary history. Mak first gained my attention with Jorwerd: The Death of a Twentieth Century Village. to borrow from the book’s subtitle. Mak’s book fuses journalism and history around the theme of the rapid and irreversible transformation of a traditional Dutch village. afterward they existed as a prize to win or exploit for colonization and commerce. and spiritual destructiveness of the century past. winner of the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding in 2008. loss. this Europe. Mak’s “Brief History of Amsterdam. “how God vanished” from the town. places. collective. and finally they became an ally of Atlantic Europe in its Continental conflicts.REVIEWS 969 of pursuit. and out of the way places where plots were hatched and events transpired.
sacrifice. At the start of his book. amounts to a spirit in prayer. heartbroken.” Though Mak continually deploys moral cases of who did what to whom and for whom. Much more a matter of juxtaposition than argument. A case in point is Mak’s harsh judgment of Pius . his work at its best reads like prose poem.2 million were killed in the late summer of 1916—we learn of a popular anti-war German song. or social class formation. His primary power. alas. dead. violent.”which abound in Eastern Europe. beliefs. statistical reports. As an Amsterdam resident. destinies mingle. meanspirited. cruel. having died before the war. resistance. lies in his evocation of the singular person. or the steep challenge of the future. those “territorial Jorwerds. Indeed. paintings. He cannot forget the Nazi world organized against her. he understandably does not systematically take up the question of collaboration. who didn’t believe someone could be a good Catholic and a Nazi. and omissions in Mak’s book will be challenged. places. individual choices. A few pages later. newspaper articles. the reality of the present. what. classes. and sent marching forward to the front for a second hero’s death. and now and again Mak points our forgotten marginal lands. Mak never travels free of the tether of Anne Frank’s house. and cowardly. “where the goats go up and the girls come down. event.970 journal of social history spring 2011 Mak fleshes out his work with secondary texts. diaries. and other iconographic materials. and consequence. who in different guises intrude their way into Mak’s narrative of epoch change. we meet not just prophets of the new century but ordinarily forgotten grandpères and grandmères.” Mak delivers us to the battle of the Somme. at the 1900 Paris World Fair. after we’ve been told of the deadly “sum of the Somme”—1. Eastern Europe—its Gdansk and recent tragedies at Chernobyl and in Bosnia—are used to remind prosperous and content Western Europe that progress does not obliterate the truth of the past. is re-animated. While not a religious text. Though his work is not without strong opinions. he repeatedly brings up what is gone. At points Mak’s tenacious fidelity is grim. There are not just bombs and even an occasional tank still exhumed in the farm fields of Ypres but a photo of a memorial of children’s shoes from Chernobyl. as most in the twentieth century did. and slaughtered. for a religious sensibility. or the Dutch world that failed to save her. On the pages of In Europe different generations. reports. treatments. democracy. along the streets of the city of the Grand Illumination. his congregation is Western Europe’s self-assured consumers and self-content citizens. Faithful to memory. through the darkest forests. documents. defiant of generalization. and. Mak’s path led. stories. songs. sacrificed. His deepest truths—the points at which his meaning is most intense—come in the form of facts. In Europe is a serious meditation—a memorial of the cruel. it recounts the tale of a dead hero who. it does not constitute an ideological expedition into the past nor an exercise in applying social science theories of demography. Along a short stretch of highway. with “only a tap of the accelerator along the autoroute from Lille to Paris. Along the way we meet solitary protesting heroes like Franz Jägenstätter. and anecdotes. Tragic commemoration forms Mak’s dominant mode of surveying the past. what can only wrongfully be forgotten. moment. Based on a poem by Bertold Brecht. drafted. re-constructions. and martyrdom. If the moral subject of Mak’s sermon is Europe at its most tragic. films. old travel guides.
With a declining and aging population. it somehow must learn anew if it is to compete with a still growing and vital America and the emerging worlds of China. Europe cannot form a new spirit unless it admits its history. the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Europe must be determined to rescue itself from its own crises. 2007. Southwest Minnesota State University Joe Amato Human Nature in Rural Tuscany: An Early Modern History. An implicit assumption. the intimate detail of a world in miniature can be attached to some larger historical vision. Writing his work against the immediate background of the Bosnian War and the prolonged siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. and revolutionary ideologies of the nineteenth century. plus 218). and other regional powers. accompanies this challenge. and the failures and tragedies of Eastern Europe and the neglectful indifference of Western Europe. plus 17 plates. or the nationalism. end its hostility to new immigrants. Certainly. and quit its infantile but century-long dependence on the United States.” Larger criticisms will focus on Mark’s proclivity to interpret Europe as une revolution manqué yesterday and a failing revolution today.” and “journalistic. “moralizing. nor whether it was lost well in advance of the twentieth century with (I only suggest some possibilities) the crusades. and even architecture. geography. This brings us to the largest proposition of Mak’s broad tapestry and moral inventory: Twentieth-century Europe essentially lost its culture. Europe has no choice but to put aside its provincialism and nationalism. the expulsions and restrictions of centralized monarchies. The absence of footnotes in the book will underpin criticisms of it as general. At the same time. controllable bits of .REVIEWS 971 the XII as simply a Machiavellian anti-Semite. on the one hand. Its necessary concreteness gives a comforting reassurance of historical reality. By Gregory Hanlon (New York: Palgrave Macmillan. economy. Mak leaves no doubt that Europe is absent the unity and determination it needs. Abstractions about trends and patterns are replaced by individuals who have names and kin. In Europe constitutes a powerful historical evocation of need of past for the life of the present and birth of the future. It must acknowledge where it has been in the twentieth century to get a fresh start in the twenty first century. Mak does not take up the question of what constituted the substance of the culture Europe lost. xiii. Mak found plenty of evidence of the depths of multi-ethnic misunderstanding and hate and western Europe’s continuing battle for justice and tolerance. Events occur in a circumscribed setting easily connected to a specific climate. the exclusive and divisive secular rationalism of the Enlightenment. Tiny. industrialism. Surely his pervasive critique rests on the twin pillars of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. contemporary historians can use a copy of this work on their shelf of thoughtful books. and it must find another to survive the pressing decades ahead. But whatever the case. India. in Mak’s view. Local history has a double appeal for historians.
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