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[Lockdown chronicle] Sur la route du Danube, or Europe in the wrong direction

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In search of escape, there are readings that can take us out of our walls of isolation. The French novel Sur la route du Danube is an invitation to travel and rediscover our European continent.

By cycling for 4000km, the author Emmanuel Ruben, accompanied by his friend Vlad, follows the Danube, from its delta in the Ukraine, to its source in the German Black Forest and shares his view of this European corridor without borders, the birthplace of many capitals and travels through this Europe of edges.

Opting thus for a trip upstream, the author testifies in his novel to his long geographical journey, which will also prove to be temporal, cultural and linguistic along this European corridor. "Most Danubian travellers go from the source to the mouth, convinced that one must always head towards the sea (...) I wanted to go upstream the Danube following the path of barbarian invasions and great migrations, , I wanted to rub Europe up the wrong way," writes Emmanuel Ruben.

Meeting people like Viktor, a boatman in Vilkovo, the author offers us a glimpse of these border towns with multiple stories: "Vilkovo was successively a Turkish, Russian, Romanian, Soviet and then Ukrainian territory", and these populations living to the rhythm of the river's waters: "When he gets a little thirsty, Viktor is simply satisfied to draw river water from the palm of his hand (...) - I have drunk all my life this water which comes from all the countries of Europe".

A criticism of the « Schengen Reich »

Danube in its wild state, vision of Romanian industrial wastelands, or migrants arrested at the Hungarian border, we discover very beautiful and strong passages when the road brings the author to the Serbo-Croatian borders, evoking the conflicts, still recent, in the Balkans in the 90s." In the Balkan night, which is still falling as fast as ever, it is useless to look for the wounded soul of Vukovar, yesterday one of the jewels of Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia (...) I am forced to note that a total war like the one that was fought around here can deprive a place of all genius", as the author analyses on arrival in the Croatian town of Vukovar, deeply wounded and still victim of the nationalist hints between Serbs and Croats.

In contact with these memories and experiences, the author ends up with a very personal criticism, although not without arguments, of the other institutional Europe, "the Reich of Schengen" in his words, hat we experience in the western part of Europe, and which leads him to regret this distance from the peoples, especially nomads, and the real values that should cross the continent, tutoring a certain pamphleteering style that could enrich the reflection on the European policies of the future. Or to push the reader to take his own bike and try this adventure and discover with his own eyes this Europe of the Danube.


[Emmanuel Ruben is a writer, professor of History-Geography and, since September 2017, has directed the Maison Julien Gracq in Mauges-sur-Loire, a cultural venue open to the public which organises literary events, contemporary art exhibitions and hosts writers and artists in residence].