Winner of the 2005 National Book Award for fiction, Vollmann's 12th novel showcases his talents as a prose stylist as well as his remarkable ability to blend fact with fiction in unexpected ways. The book is set during World War II, and Vollmann's focus is the tension between Russia and Germany. Through a group of interconnected narratives featuring a host of historical figures composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Russian poet Anna Ahkmatova and German artist Kathe Kollwitz, to name a few Volllmann traces the larger implications of the conflict in Europe and beyond. Shostakovich is brought richly to life, as the author uses his career and his compositions, produced under the rule of Stalin, to demonstrate the nature of creation in a repressive environment. Kurt Gerstein, the Nazi officer who tried to alert the rest of the world about the dangers of the concentration camps and who himself was employed in the camps, is also featured. Vollmann's sprawling, fascinating novel touches upon all facets of existence in an uncertain world faced with a new kind of brutality. Broad and ambitious, at once universal and personal, this is a big beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the regenerative nature of civilization.

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