A Nike Award–winning author travels through Eastern Europe, a place littered with the crumbling relics of communism, with inhabitants abandoned and seemingly frozen in time waiting for their future to begin.
Eschewing major European cities, Stasiuk (Fado, 2009, etc.) traveled east from his native Poland into the nearly deserted yet captivating landscapes of places off the usual tourist route, including Transylvania, Moldova, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine and Albania. Translated from Polish, the spellbinding language captures the author’s piercing insights with painful clarity; Stasiuk refuses to soften what he sees, hears and smells, providing a dynamic postcard of his travels. Readers will be rapidly ensnared by his recounting of a curiously exotic and complex region of the world—villages where, “[i]f you took away the cars, everything would be as it was a hundred year ago,” where “monotony suggests eternity.” Peppered with haunting landscapes, the terrain contains a history of brutal wars and rapacious dictators. Driving through Slovenia, the author came across a dark valley, the largest unmarked cemetery in a country where “in the summer of 1945, Tito’s Communists murdered in this place, without a trial or witnesses, prisoners who had been handed over to them by armies of the Allies.” In Albania, the author encountered a nation lacking the resources to melt down the 600,000 bunkers built between 1944 and 1985, during the regime of Enver Hoxha. “When the highway turned toward Tirana, the bunkers began,” he writes. “Gray concrete skulls, jutting a meter above the ground, gazed with eyes that were black vertical slits. They looked like corpses buried standing.” Whether writing about gypsies, the ancient bond between beasts and humans or the threadbare currency of Moldova, Stasiuk’s language and sharp observations reveal a discerning intellect.
A mesmerizing, not-to-be-missed trek through a little-visited region of the world.