I recently read Our Europe: Banquet of Nations by Laurent Gaudé, originally published in 2019. This is an epic poem of sorts, in honor of Europe (and especially the European Union), retracing the history of the Old Continent from the industrial revolution to modern times. Here are eight quotes from the book that particularly stood out to me.
The two centuries before us were nothing but striving, fever, onslaught, and revolution.
The centuries before us were ogres, devouring courage and genius, whole lives at a time.
And here we are, With these words handed down to us: “Nation,” “Equality,” “Freedom,”
And we contemplate them wearily.
For we have long become citizens of boredom.
We are the children of the monstrous expansion of cities,
They become a world,
They become light, a stage,
And unspeakable slums.
What we eat makes us what we are
And for centuries we have eaten the world.
Our countries have run the race For raw materials.
To be the seller, not the buyer,
The one to choose, not to submit.
They are all there, in Berlin in 1885: French, Italians, British, Spanish, Belgians, Danes, Dutch, Portuguese, Russians, Norwegians, Ottomans, Americans, and Austro-Hungarians
Staring at a huge dish: Africa. Bigger than their eyes, their mouths, their bellies,
But that doesn’t matter,
They eat for more than themselves,
They eat for their children and grandchildren.
They eat for at least a century of colonization.
The miles you covered,
The seas you crossed,
To end up at the great feast of war.
Europe invited the entire world to its suicide
And in the end, killed all the guests.
The train, that was Europe’s pride and glory,
Becomes the emblem of its destruction.
A rail network in Europe that subsumed entire populations and gassed them.
The old generals cannot believe their eyes.
Unkempt young people,
Boys dressed like girls,
Girls showing their legs
Are defying them, singing, no longer afraid.
We know man’s inhumanity to man,
We know the abyss,
We have been swallowed by its depth.