STALIN'S NOSE by Rory MacLean


Travels Around the Bloc
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 As the Soviet Union collapses, young Briton MacLean accompanies his German Aunt Zita on a rueful trip through Mitteleuropa. The journey is funny, helpless, hopeless, and, finally, haunting. Two generations after Isherwood, MacLean leaves Germany in a battered Trabant with his widowed aunt and a pet pig named Winston (the Orwellian connection is apt). The Old Lady, the Young Journalist, and the Porcine Muse journey from the Rhineland through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania to this chronicle's heart of this darkness--the Kremlin and the tomb of Lenin. It all reads like a gazetteer of Central Europe, with place names in which vowels are optional. There are swift changes of scene, and one character rapidly replaces another. Germans and Russians, Magyars and Slavs, folk named Panni, Pappi, and Dinu entertain Aunt Zita, nephew Rory, and swine Winston. Over halpaprik†s and apricot schnapps, individual tales of war, hot and cold, are recounted, including personal histories of the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring, and the end of the cold war. There's a particularly moving account of what happened at Auschwitz, and one person observes that ``It's been going downhill here since the Middle Ages.'' The writing is occasionally too easily excited (``an ancient man in a trilby with a long white beard'') or fruity (``the air of his saxophone drifted on the puszta as sleep overcame us''), and no xenophobic skinheads or neo-Nazis show up. But the observations are sharp, the humor is black, and the Weltschmerz goes back to Vlad the Impaler. It's not always easy, traveling with this Occidental tourist through the Eastern bloc, but, ultimately, the trip is a memorable souvenir of postwar Europe.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1993
ISBN: 0-316-54239-3
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1992