Synopses & Reviews
An inventive, wholly original look at the complex psyche of Eastern Europe in the wake of the revolutions of 1989 and the opening of the communist archives.
In the tradition of Timothy Garton Ash’s The File, Yale historian and prize-winning author Marci Shore draws upon intimate understanding to illuminate the afterlife of totalitarianism. The Taste of Ashes spans from Berlin to Moscow, moving from Vienna in Europe’s west through Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw and Bucharest to Vilnius and Kiev in the post-communist east. The result is a shimmering literary examination of the ghost of communism – no longer Marx’s “specter to come” but a haunting presence of the past.
Marci Shore builds her history around people she came to know over the course of the two decades since communism came to an end in Eastern Europe: her colleagues and friends, once-communists and once-dissidents, the accusers and the accused, the interrogators and the interrogated, Zionists, Bundists, Stalinists and their children and grandchildren. For them, the post-communist moment has not closed but rather has summoned up the past: revolution in 1968, Stalinism, the Second World War, the Holocaust. The end of communism had a dark side. As Shore pulls the reader into her journey of discovery, reading the archival records of people who are themselves confronting the traumas of former lives, she reveals the intertwining of the personal and the political, of love and cruelty, of intimacy and betrayal. The result is a lyrical, touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, portrayal of how history moves and what history means.
"Shore's Europe is populated with prostitutes and pimps, street urchins and skinheads; the landscape is 'cold and gray... burnt to ashes and rebuilt in Stalinist architecture.' The National Jewish Book Award winner's newest (after Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918 1968) begins and ends with the suicide of a friend, an Ã©migrÃ© who returned to Prague only to find that the city he remembered no longer exists, and many of the characters who fill its pages are ghosts refugees of time and ideology, unable to make peace with the capitalist theme park that replaced their homelands. A historian of the Holocaust and of communism, Shore journeys through Eastern Europe probing the wounds left by the twin disasters of the 20th century. A mix of memoir, travelogue, and philosophical treatise, her book is above all an anthropological study of a people living in a world obscured by cobwebs, more mindful of yesterday than today, where the future cannot be realized until the deaths of all those who witnessed the abyss. The one who makes such observations can only be an outsider, or in the words of one of Shore's interlocutors one who knows 'too much and not enough, and nothing.' Challenging and sometimes maddening, but also warm and compassionate, the resulting work is an examination of what it means to live in a society where 'the realm of the not possible expansive' and where history, 'proceeding inexorably and inevitably,' shapes identity. Agent: Gillian MacKenzie, Gillian MacKenzie Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Marci Shore, an associate professor of intellectual history at Yale, has spent much of her adult life in central and eastern Europe. She is the author of Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, which won eight prizes, including a National Jewish Book Award. She is also the translator of Michał Głowiński's Holocaust memoir The Black Seasons.
Table of Contents
Table of contents
The taste of ashes
A wrinkle in time
“Hair is like garbage”
“Everything I know about people I learned in the camps”
“It was only a small revolution”
Pornography in Prague
“The human being is rather perverse”
Reason and conscience
A Galician summer
“Think about whether or not I was right”
The other side of Stalinism
The locomotive of History
The eternally wandering Jew
The dead and the living
“But not in the ovens”
Children of the Revolution
The taste of caviar
“Everything was so unattractive”
A star of the stage
Tragedy and romance
Cast of Historical Figures