Apr 232012
 
Between East and West Is a Long Road

Eighteen years ago Anne Applebaum traveled through the flat lands between Russia and Poland and documented her journey in "Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe."  At first glance, it was a different time: Communist governments had toppled a few years before and the chaos of transition to democracy pervaded all life. But, Applebaum presages what Anne Porter documented in last year’s "The Ghosts of Europe": history casts a long shadow across time. Shifting borders, clashing empires, and old conflicts turn making sense of the borderlands into a daunting […] Continue reading >

Mar 272012
 
Head-Spinning in America

The title of Bertrand-Henri Lévy’s "American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of de Tocqueville" is both accurate and deceiving. Lévy’s prison tours are a thin pretext for his travels through the United States in 2004, an afterthought in the dizzy-inducing whirlwind of a trip.  Whereas Jean Beaudrillard spun, in "America," his account in terms of space (the desert), Lévy narrates the country as movement (the road). The result reflects the approach: Lévy breezes through the land in fragments and enumerations. Similar to any lengthy road trip, as soon as I settled into the book […] Continue reading >

Mar 032012
 
Emigration and Its Weighty Obstacles

Emigration is hardest when it’s involuntary and when you cannot return to your country of origin. Alexandar Hemon, a native of Bosnia and now a Chicagoan, has based his career as a fiction writer on this theme. When he was visiting the States in the early 1990’s with a journalism education program, the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, his hometown Sarajevo came under siege, and he was unable to return. The theme carries the short stories in "Love and Obstacles", tracing a single protagonist’s journey through childhood, immigration, […] Continue reading >

Feb 232012
 
The Ghostbusters of Central Europe

Anna Porter’s The Ghosts of Europe explores the state of affairs in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, 20 years after the end of state socialism. In each country she discovers that the historical triumphs and, more frequently, traumas remain far from being settled history. Two decades of free speech and free market may actually have intensified the debates among competing versions of history. To paraphrase Jan Gross, whom Porter quotes, “In order to reclaim its past, [insert Central European country’s name here] will have to tell its past anew.” […] Continue reading >

Feb 172012
 
America the Hyperreal

Visiting and then writing about the U.S. has a solid tradition among the French, but it’s safe to say the late Jean Beaudrillard‘s 1986 work"America" hasn’t made the list of books covering their country that Americans would showcase. Even the most cynical among my new compatriots would hesitate to call their country "a giant hologram", a "blank solitude," or a "narcissistic refraction." Abstract hyperbole defines Beaudrillard’s "America". On the ground, it is the desert that defines Beaudrillard’s America. He can’t get enough of it because "you are delivered from all depth […] Continue reading >

Feb 032012
 
Going and Winning, Immigrant-Style

Alina Simone’s critically (and, on occasion, uncritically) acclaimed collection of personal essays "You Must Go and Win," documents her circuitous path through music industry’s wilderness and the discovery of her Russian roots. You must go and read it. At the risk of overgeneralizing: Simone deadpans as perhaps only an Eastern European can; her voice engages as perhaps only an American storyteller’s is able to. Simone has been called "a frenzied, Eastern European musician’s version of humorist David Sedaris." Both Simone and Sedaris find humor in the banality of life; both are […] Continue reading >

Nov 222011
 
When the Birds Confer to Tell the Tale

Whether it’s a testimony to my cultural isolation or Penguin Press’s marketing prowess, I learned about “The Conference of the Birds”, the new book by Petr Sís (Peter Sis), on All Things Considered during last Wednesday’s evening commute. By a stroke of luck, I met Petr, a Czech émigré living in the U.S. since 1982, only five days later during his book-tour stop here in Portland, Oregon. In his presentation Monday at Powell’s City of Books, Peter gave a whirlwind tour of the book’s origins and story, of his life/career […] Continue reading >

Oct 262011
 
Slovak Cooking Delivers Delicious Morsels of Home

If you were to ask Ľuboš Brieda, “What’s cookin’?”, he’d most likely tell you the name of a Slovak dish you’ve never heard of. Which is precisely what his website Slovak Cooking remedies: This site is dedicated to the natural and wholesome lifestyle of our (Slovak) grandparents. It’s the lifestyle when food did not come shrink-wrapped, when flour was part of every pantry, and potatoes of every cellar. Join in, and try some Slovak dishes today. There is a bit of Slovakia in all of us! The website is simple: […] Continue reading >