Andrew Wheatcroft at The New York Times:
The River Danube, like a siren, has seduced at least three authors over the centuries. The first was Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli from Bologna, in the 17th century. His work grew into six wonderfully illustrated volumes, published in Latin in 1726. The second was Claudio Magris, from Trieste, in the 20th century. A professor, scholar and novelist, he completed a journey to the Black Sea in 1986, just before the fall of the old Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Like Marsigli, he had no very clear idea of what kind of book he wanted to write, yet in the end, Magris produced “Danube,” a masterpiece.
In his hands, the river is not just a majestic force of nature but becomes the silent hero of the book. Like Laurence Sterne with Tristram Shandy, Magris discovered the unlikely circumstances of the Danube’s origins, at least in folklore. It was a stream of water gushing from a tap, which no one had managed to turn off. For a moment he mused on what might happen if someone did manage to turn the great river off at its source, and Bratislava, Belgrade and Budapest were left “completely waterless.”