From the First World War to the waning days of the Cold War, a poignant exploration on what it means to be European at the end of the twentieth-century. Geert Mak crisscrosses Europe from Verdun to Berlin, Saint Petersburg to Srebrenica in search of evidence and witnesses of the last hundred years of Europe. Using his skills as an acclaimed journalist, Mak locates the smaller, personal stories within the epic arc of history-talking to a former ticket-taker at the gates of the Birkenau concentration camp or noting the neat rows of tiny shoes in the abandoned nursery school in the shadow of Chernobyl. His unique approach makes the reader an eyewitness to a half-forgotten past, full of unknown peculiarities, sudden insights and touching encounters. Sweeping in scale, but intimate in detail In Europe is a masterpiece.
On January 4, 1999, Mak, a journalist and one of the Netherlands' most popular authors, set out from Amsterdam on assignment for his newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, to crisscross Europe in the final year before the millennium to discover "what shape the continent was in." And crisscross he did: Vienna, London; Stalingrad (now Volgograd), Chernobyl, Lourdes, Budapest; Srebrenica and dozens more. For his columns, collected here, Mak used his reporter's eye to describe the vividness of the countryside and cityscapes through which he traveled, his writer's ear to interview individuals who had experienced Europe's most terrible and terrific times, and his historian's pen to narrate the passing of that most extraordinary of centuries. What Mak discovered was that while "Europe" is turning itself into an ostensible "union," there is unexpectedly "little in the way of a shared historical experience." There is no European people, for instance, and every nation has conceived its own version of the catastrophic First and Second World Wars. Mak's brilliant compendium is difficult to define is it a history book, a travelogue, a memoir? but stands out as a remarkable, insightful, exhilarating exposition on that peculiar continent across the Atlantic. Map.