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Five Novels of Twentieth-Century Apocalypse

Five Novels of Twentieth-Century Apocalypse March 2, 2020

I’m in the University Bookman, with an essay I posted here but revised & improved for the magazine:

Four of these novels are classics of revolt against the times: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Russian Civil War novel White Guard, and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. The fifth, Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, is an experimental science-fiction collage novel which at first seems to sit oddly among works otherwise set in some version of a real, historical world. Yet to read these books not in order of publication but in the order I’ve just named them—slotting Hesse in right before Waugh—is to watch the apocalypse in slow motion. The post-apocalyptic world is recognizably our own, as the vanished world is recognizably alien. By exploring these novels’ common ground, we can see what we’ve lost—and what we’ve forgotten.

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