1913: The Year Before the Storm

Quite the palate cleanser. Perfect book for the attention deficit disorder generation. Snippets and sentences and paragraphs detailing the lives of famous men (of course!) in the year 1913. “Speaking of sickly: where is Rilke, by the way?” I do appreciate the meshing and merging of several timelines into one lollipop; we find Stalin and Hitler taking walks in the same park in Vienna in early 1913 and later spy Yugoslavia’s Tito as a car driver in the city. We see Freud and Jung square up against each other, cries of “patricide!” ringing in their ears. Matisse brings Picasso flowers when he’s sick. Gertrude Stein never speaks to her brother after he leaves. Thomas Mann begins to write Magic Mountain. Proust publishes À la recherche du temps perdu. DH Lawrence runs away with his real life Lady Chatterly. And on and on and on. An overabundance of lesser-known German artists/writers try to shore up the tottering pages.
Women are categorized as something to be shared among artists (p 11), things that artists sleep with (p 65), profoundly depressed (a worthless rehash of the old Virginia Woolf rut, p 66), insane (p 78). Woolf pops up again later in a suicide attempt, all sorts of liberties are taken with the retelling, which make me suspect the “facts” of the rest of this mouth-freshening mint of a book. It’s all razzle-dazzle without any meat on its bones. Truly worthless, name-dropping kind of book wrapped in a terrific concept. Take a year, boil down a timeline into chewable bits that still have meaning, construct the world before the world fell apart. Coulda, shoulda been a better book.