Recent writings -- passionate, reckless, comic, and tragic by turn -- from the trenches of splintered Eastern Europe and the...


DESCRIPTION OF A STRUGGLE: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Eastern European Writing

Recent writings -- passionate, reckless, comic, and tragic by turn -- from the trenches of splintered Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Behind the Communist wall, literature was routinely both revered and feared, Czech novelist Ivan Klíma (My Golden Trades, p. 1013) points out in his introduction; paradoxically, it grew powerful through government suppression and censorship. The resulting mix of confidence and despair among Eastern European writers is evident in many of these short works, nearly all fictional -- from the sly wit of Serbian Bora Cosic's ""Russians By Trade,"" a tale of the effect on local villagers of the Russian presence in 1936, to ""Ants,"" Russian samizdat writer Viktor Lapitskii's haunting story of a man who learns to love the insects that infest his body. In between, Hanna Krall tells, in ""Retina,"" of a Polish man whose silence regarding his experience in Hitler's concentration camps leads to his son's terrorist activities; Bohumil Hrabal, in a letter entitled ""The Pink Scarf,"" describes petty rebellious acts committed in Czechoslovakia in 1989; and Mao schemes to destroy European femininity in ""The Concert,"" an excerpt from Albanian Ismail Kadare's 1994 novel of the same name. Styles vary intriguingly among nations from the sorrowful simplicity of Polish Pawel Huelle's ""Mina,"" whose protagonist is committed to a mental institution, to the cynical humor of Bulgarian Viktor Paskov's ""Big Business,"" in which Bulgarian exiles pose as Romanian refugees in hopes of garnering greater begging income in the Paris MÉtro. Most memorable are Bulgarian Ivailo Dichev's ""Desires: The Erotica of Communism,"" a convincing demonstration of how Communism can stimulate the libido, and Latvian Andra Neiburga's ""Mousy Death,"" in which a woman collapses from the effects of environmental pollution. Established authors are mixed with newcomers here by March (Goya, not reviewed), traditional storytellers with experimentalists. What comes across loud and clear is that all have had their fill of silence. Captivating, kaleidoscopic, vital fiction, as informative as today's newspaper.

Pub Date: Dec. 22, 1994


Page Count: 432

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994