by Anne Applebaum ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 28, 1994
A journey through middle Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, of which George Orwell would have been proud, if he had extended his own travels from the Road to Wigan Pier to Minsk. This is not a land flowing with milk and honey. The region and its peoples have been fought over, uprooted, persecuted, and killed for a thousand years. Just in this century, the Borderlands have survived the collapse of three empires, the division of the spoils after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939, the Second World War, the Holocaust, Stalin's despotism, and the fall of the Soviet Union. As Applebaum, foreign editor for the London Spectator, aptly comments, ""To sift through the layers, one needs to practice a kind of visual and aural archeology."" She does so with sensitive skill, noting how the cobblestones have disappeared beneath cracked concrete, how medieval foundations have vanished behind ""spectacular monotony,"" and how churches and shops have given way to numbered apartment blocks. She records the rival nationalisms -- Lithuanians hating Poles, Poles hating Lithuanians, everyone hating the Russians. She sees the miles of rusting Soviet naval ships in Kaliningrad, the pit behind the courthouse in Woroniaki in the Ukraine where the KGB dumped the bodies of those they had executed, and records the changes that have taken place as a Ukrainian professor of atheism renames himself professor of religion but delivers the same lectures. She ends her visit in Odessa, with its elegant houses, the only upbeat part of the trip. Otherwise, one is inclined to agree with the Russian who observes sourly that there is no difference between a peasant on the Volga and a man living in the African jungle except that the African has sunlight, fresh air, clean water, and no ice in the winter. The decor may be Soviet drab and mildew, but the book is intelligent, evocative, filled with vivid characterization and an understanding of the history of the area.
Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1994
Page Count: 336
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994
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