Summary and book reviews of The Capital by Robert Menasse

The Capital

A Novel

by Robert Menasse

The Capital by Robert Menasse X
The Capital by Robert Menasse
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  • Published:
    Jun 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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Book Summary

Winner of the German Book Prize, The Capital is an "omniscient, almost Balzac-ian" (Steven Erlanger, New York Times) panorama of splintered Europe.

Set on capturing the elusive inner workings of the European Union, Robert Menasse, one of Austria's most creative thinkers, moved to the EU's headquarters in Brussels for an enthralling, wine-soaked tour of supranational institutions. The resulting novel has become an international sensation, translated from German into more than twenty languages and deemed "the first great EU novel" (Politico). At the heart of a cast as diverse as the union itself is Fenia Xenapoulou, a Greek Cypriot recently "promoted" to the Department of Culture, who hopes to revamp the European Commission's image by proclaiming Auschwitz as its birthplace with the "Big Jubilee Project." Other tragic heroes, clever schemers, and involuntary accomplices are intricately woven, revealing the absurdities―and real dangers―of a fiercely nationalistic "union." Mordantly funny and piercingly urgent, The Capital, the winner of Germany's highest fiction prize, is an "elegantly written, beautifully constructed" (Die Zeit) feat of world literature.

Excerpt
The Capital

There's a pig on the loose! David de Vriend caught sight of it when he opened his sitting-room window for one last glance at the square before leaving this apartment for good. He wasn't a sentimental man. He had lived here for sixty years, looked out onto this square for sixty years and was now bringing it to an end. That's all. It was his favourite phrase; whenever he had something to say, report, attest, he would utter two or three sentences, followed by, "That's all." For David de Vriend this phrase was the only legitimate résumé of each moment or chapter in his life. The removal firm had been to fetch the few personal effects he was taking to his new home. Effects – a strange word, but it had no effect on him. Then the men came to clear out everything else, including those things that were screwed and nailed down, and the screws and nails too. They yanked it out, dismantled it and took it all away until the apartment was "as clean as a whistle", ...

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Reviews

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Menasse clearly has a deep-rooted affection for what the E.U. represents at its core. The Auschwitz celebrations may be a cynical political ploy to curry favor with the public, but the continual references to the Holocaust and its survivors demonstrate how easily feuding nations can lead to genocide and why a federation is needed to safeguard and unify European citizens. The Capital is a multi-faceted novel of ideas that will inspire great debate about the E.U.'s evolving role in contemporary Europe.   (Reviewed by Dean Muscat).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times
Omniscient, almost Balzac-ian.

The Economist (UK)
Mischievous yet profound.

The Spectator (UK)
A thoroughly entertaining fiction that serves both as a sort of campus satire and a novel of ideas.... With its zest, pace and wit, Jamie Bulloch's translation serves him [Menasse] splendidly.

The Guardian (UK)
A first-class read.

The Financial Times (UK)
Pioneering the genre of Eurolit.

Booklist
Utterly unique.... In constantly blending styles and genres, Menasse captures the wonderful diversity of cultures that the EU has brought together. Winner of the German Book Prize, this is part celebration of the EU and part farce, a strange, timely novel emphasizing the benefits of international institutions at precisely a moment when they are increasingly under stress.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Intelligent, fun, sad, insightful—an exceptional work.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Witty but humane.... The massive cast never becomes unwieldy tanks to Menasse’s delightful prose. This epic, droll account of contemporary Europe will be catnip for fans of mosaic novels and comical political machinations.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Symbolism of the Pig

Animal Farm by George Orwell book coverIn addition to having a very real fugitive pig running through the streets of Brussels, Robert Menasse deploys a pig leitmotif throughout The Capital that takes on a wealth of significance across the novel. Characters discuss the value of pig's ears, and pork is served in a succulent cherry beer sauce. Even fictional pigs such as Babe, Miss Piggy and Peppa Pig are referenced.

As Menasse goes on to philosophize through the character of Professor Kurt van der Koot, the symbol of the pig has been made to act as "good and evil, fortune and disaster, sentimental love, contempt and deep-seated hatred, eroticism and wickedness. It was the only animal which as a metaphor covered the entire breadth of human emotions and philosophies, from the ...

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