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Review Essay

Ever-Further Union

What Happened to the European Idea?

In This Review

The Capital
The Capital
By Robert Menasse. Translated by Jamie Bulloch.
Liveright, 2019, 416 pp. Purchase

The European Union may well be the most ambitious and successful experiment in voluntary international cooperation in history. It has lasted longer than most national democracies in the world today. But it is deadly dull. So it is no surprise that novelists shun EU politics. How could a writer possibly find inspiration among the soulless steel and glass buildings of Brussels, where pedantic bureaucrats, politically correct diplomats, and remorseless lobbyists hammer out market regulations?

Robert Menasse, a popular Austrian author and essayist, accepted the challenge. Ten years ago, he moved to Brussels with the quixotic aim of writing the first great EU novel. The resulting work, Die Hauptstadt, was published in 2017 and won the most prestigious book prize in the German-speaking world, the German Book Prize. It now appears in English as The Capital.

Menasse’s novel is a satirical send-up of contemporary Brussels. Alongside subplots involving terrorists, contract killers,

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