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The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings

The Enormous Room (1922)

by e. e. cummings

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Challenging read due to Cummings' poetic prose and his interspersing of French dialogue. It is also not a very straightforward read, as he jumps from story to story and introduces characters in whatever order seemed to appeal to him. In the end, I did find it rather rewarding - both for the style and semi-fictional account of the time period. ( )
  thomnottom | Apr 21, 2016 |
This autobiographical tale of the four months E E Cummings spent in a French jail during the First World War is told in a strange way. E E Cummings paints vivid character portraits of the other prisons and the guards. The Enormous Room, that is the prisoner's dormitory. There is a lot of French in the book and this was sometimes irritating and the structure of the sentences made reading a chore at times. ( )
1 vote Tifi | Jan 29, 2016 |
Cummings volunteered as an ambulance driver in France during World War I. After censors discovered a friend of his was writing questionable letters home, Cummings was questioned and arrested as well after he stood up for his friend. He was held in a detention center for four months before being released and sent home due to diplomatic intervention. This book is an autobiography of his time as a detainee and a portrait of the colorful people who were held with him.

I really liked this book. Although the subject matter was very serious, the style and language were fun, and the characters were a riot. I remember enough of my high school French that the significant amount of French passages weren’t a problem for me. ( )
1 vote AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
Reading this book, I am reminded of a review I read somewhere (Amazon, likely) calling Samuel Delany's style 'prosetry'. At the time, I was not even sure what the devil the person was referring to (I recall looking the word up), but gathering that the person who used it meant it as a bad thing. Delany is certainly poetic with his prose, and that is what I have come to enjoy the most about his books, but it seems to me as a far cry from a blending of poetry and prose.
cummings, on the other hand, seems to do exactly that. He seems to have a disregard for the journalistic writing conventions that form what prose novels should look like. You can almost see cummings own poetry style peering from under the cloth of this prose work, ready to transmute the whole thing into poetry. Consider:
The straw will do. Ouch, but it's Dirty.-Several hours elapse...
Stepsandfumble. Klang. Repetition of promise to Monsieur Savy, etc.
Turnkeyish and turnkeyish. Identical expression. One body collapses sufficiently to deposit a hunk of bread and a piece of water.
Give your bowl.
I gave it, smiled and said : "Well, how about that pencil?"
"Pencil?" T-C looked at t-c.
They recited then the following word : "Tomorrow." Klangandfootsteps.
It's not bad, but I wonder if it works in a novel. If this was written in verse, I would not have a problem with it. But it isn't, it's written in prose.
This is not to say you can't be poetic in prose, just that you can do so while still respecting the confines of prose.
There is something much worse n the book. Namely, a constant switching from English to French. Language switching can at time be done well, as I feel Cormac McCarthy does. The problem, I think, may best be summed up with an Orwell quote, which I will paraphrase as "don't use a foreign word when a perfectly good English word exists." This should be extended to phrases as well. Consider: "Except for the position - well, c'est la guerre." Now, I can understand that line, but I can't understand why the hell it couldn't have simply been said in English. As far as I can discern, all this does is add a layer the kind of faux-intellectualism some attribute to the use of a foreign language. It doesn't make you smarter, and it doesn't make you sound smarter. McCarthy does it well in his books because he uses it to place his story; when you are dealing with stories set on the border it does much to reveal setting and characters. Here, that is not the case. Again in the sentence "Madame la vendeuse de cafe, I shall remember you for more than a little while." there is nothing than a similar sentence translated to English. ( )
2 vote M.Campanella | Aug 31, 2015 |
Though sometimes called an autobiographical novel, The Enormous Room tells the basically true tale of how Cummings and a friend, serving as ambulance drivers during the First World War, were detained in prison for several months by the French Government as a result of their antiwar views and, in particular, the contents of a few letters Cummings' friend had written.

The Enormous Room refers to the common room where the sixty or so prisoners (at any time) had their bedding, their bathroom, their card table, and the possessions they were allowed to keep. The smell was awful--but, in large part, the company was excellent. Cummings spends most of the book drawing deft character sketches of his fellow detainees, some on their way to detention for the remainder of the War, and a few, like himself, who would be released after a few months. The depiction of the friendships that form and the small kindnesses that pass between the men are very moving. Indeed, Cummings initially found it much better than working for his boss at the ambulance service. In time, however, the absurdity of why some of the men are being detained and the small cruelties inflicted on the prisoners by the staff and a small handful of their fellow prisoners begin to add up and the book acquires a more melancholy tone.

One caution to any potential reader: Cummings repeats much of the dialog in French. Perhaps you have a footnoted edition with translations; I didn't. However, the translation feature on my Kindle, along with my small knowledge of French, worked well enough for me to understand pretty much everything. Another reason to favor e-books.

For the most part, Cummings writes in a clear, direct manner. Only occasionally does he slip into a kind of prose poetry that vaguely reflects the poems he is best known for. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore how human beings can cope with and overcome hardship, as well as anyone wanting to study a bureaucracy gone amok. ( )
1 vote datrappert | Jun 7, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
cummings, e. e.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Graves, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harmer, JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We had succeeded, my friend B. and I, in dispensing with almost three of our six months' engagement as Conducteurs Volontaires, Section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un, Ambulance Norton Harjes, Croix Rouge Americaine, and at the Moment which subsequent experience served to capitalise had just finished the unlovely job of cleaning and greasing (mettoyer is the proper word) the own private flivver of the chef de section, a gentleman by the convenient name of Mr A.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141181249, Paperback)

In 1917 young Edward Estlin Cummings went to France as a volunteer with a Red Cross ambulance unit on the western front. But his free-spirited, insubordinate ways soon got him tagged as a possible enemy of La Patrie, and he was summarily tossed into a French concentration camp at La Ferte-Mace in Normandy. Under the vilest conditions, Cummings found fulfillment of his ever elusive quest for freedom. The Enormous Room, his account of his four-month confinement, reads like a latter-day Pilgrim's Progress, a journey into dispossession, to a place among the most debased and deprived of human creatures. Cummings's hopeful tone reflects the essential paradox of his existence: to lose everything is to become free, and so to be saved.


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:05 -0400)

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Unjustly accused of treason during World War I, an American ambulance driver records the horrors of his imprisonment and reveals the corruption and stupidity of French officials.

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