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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Dry Danube

Paul West

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To purchase The Dry Danube

Title: The Dry Danube
Author: Paul West
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000
Length: 152 pages
Availability: The Dry Danube - US
The Dry Danube - UK
The Dry Danube - Canada
  • A Hitler Forgery
  • With an Afterword by the author

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Our Assessment:

B : dense, dark, often clever rant

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 25/6/2000 Ron Rosenbaum
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . XX.3 (2000) Irving Malin

  From the Reviews:
  • "As a representation of madness, it may be a tour de force; there are passages of tormented eloquence. But is it Hitler? If it doesn't even present itself as an attempt to conjure Hitler's stream of consciousness, but rather that of an aging Viennese painter, admirers of Paul West's previous work (myself included) might wonder what he's up to. (...) One has to admire West's tremendous courage in giving us this "forgery" of a demonic aesthete. But he's produced a work that doesn't just take a courageous writer; it also takes a courageous reader." - Ron Rosenbaum, The Los Angeles Times

  • "West is engaged in serious play; he implies not only that the narrator writes things but that he is written. (...) The novella maintains that if Hitler did not exist, we would have to create him." - Irving Malin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Paul West's short "Hitler forgery", The Dry Danube, is a first person-account of Vienna in the years leading up to the First World War. The narrator seems to be Adolf Hitler himself, describing his efforts to become an artist in the decaying capital of the Hapsburg Empire. He becomes obsessed with the two leading artists of the times (though if you look them up in later reference books "you will never find them"), Kolberhoff and Treischnitt. He is utterly fixated on them -- though he prefers to consider himself "a case of highly developed loyalty." He curries their favour, and hopes they will recognize his own talents and be his mentors.
       Hitler famously failed as an artist, eventually going on to far bigger (and decidedly not better) things. West presents the novel in four chunks, uninterrupted sections of a single, extended paragraph each of Hitler spiraling away from normalcy, losing himself in his ambition. The focussed, polished, obsessive writing is sometimes reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard (and West speaks of "salutes and homages" to that author in his afterword) -- though this volume does not show quite the same stylistic command that Bernhard had. West does, however, write well, and the dense stream of thought makes for a fairly powerful effect.
       Hitler's futile attempts at becoming an artist and a sense of desperation -- not only of the would-be artist, but of the people and the city around him -- are well-conveyed. Knowing what came after -- to which the book obviously plays -- adds to the effect.
       Not everything is quite as it seems in the book, and West adds an afterword in which he explains his approach:

The effect I have sought may be akin to that of Greek tragedy, in which, as is commonly known, the events take place "off stage."
       Reaching the end of the book one sees it in a slightly different light, due to some authorial trickery. West believes that the book "needs to be read twice for the double effect intended", and he is probably correct. The turn it takes explains certain aspects of the novel, while also presenting the reader with a different set of issues.
       An interesting and fairly well-written text, The Dry Danube takes an unusual look at a piece of modern history. The style and focus (not on action but on Hitler's obsession with the two artists) may not be to everyone's liking, but it is a worthwhile read.

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The Dry Danube: Reviews: Paul West: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Anglo-American author Paul West was born in 1930 and educated at Oxford and Columbia. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction.

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