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 >

Apr 152012
Through Other Lenses: American Robotnik's Readings for April 2012

Articles and Blog Posts "Rise of the Single-Woman Voter" by Hanna Rosin, Slate, March 13, 2012 – On the rise of the fastest-growing voter group. "These days your daughter, or even your mistress, is the better campaign target." "Sexuality, Independence, Economic Empowerment: A Q&A with Liza Mundy" by Marc Schultz, Publishers Weekly, March 16, 2012 – The author of "The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family" talks about a trend of women out-earning their male spouses. On the flipside, "America wants to […] 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 112012
Through Other Lenses: American Robotnik's Readings for March 2012

Articles and Blog Posts "How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy" by Kathleen McAuliffe, The Atlantic Monthly, March 2012 – If you’ve ever wondered about Americans’ love for pets and their odd behavior, a Czech scientist has found there may be a connection. "A Brief History of the American Pawn Shop" by Wendy Woloson, Bloomberg, February 9, 2012 – They’re a world unto itself. "Quitting the Paint Factory" by Mark Slouka, Harper’s Magazine, November 2004 – "There’s something un-American about singing the virtues of idleness." He sings it well. "How […] 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 072012
Pride (In the Name of the Nation or Institutions)

Positive psychology shows that the pride in your country correlates with well-being. “Research shows that feeling good about your country also makes you feel good about your own life,” establishes a recent Science Daily article that highlights new research showing the source of that patriotic pride makes a huge difference in the level of life satisfaction. Civic nationalism makes people happier than ethnic nationalism. Whereas ethnic nationalism is based on ancestral, racial, or religious terms (or a combination thereof), civic nationalism springs from pride in a country’s laws and institutions. A study of […] Continue reading >

Feb 052012
Through Other Lenses: American Robotnik's Readings for February 2012

Articles and Blog Posts  "Paved but Still Alive" by Michael Kimmelman, New York Times, January 6, 2012 – How to take parking lots seriously as public spaces. "The US schools with their own police" by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 9, 2012 – Kids’ bad behavior gets increasingly criminalized; Foucault is laughing in his grave. "Five Things the Census Revealed About America in 2011" by Brookings, January 17, 2012 "The Caging of America" by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, January 30, 2012 – “Why do we lock up so many people?” […] 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 >

Jan 202012
The Return to a Disappearing Childhood

When you live outside your country of origin, particularly if it’s overseas like, say, America, every trip ‘back home’ turns into a special occasion. If you’re Evgenia Arbugaeva, not only may it take 18 years to go back, it may also be the last time you see your home town. Tiksi is Arbugaeva’s ‘home home’ in Siberia, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, at the true edge of nowhere. A former military and scientific base, Tiksi emptied after the Soviet Union fell apart. Arbugaeva returned after almost two […] Continue reading >

Jan 082012
Through Other Lenses: American Robotnik's Readings for January 2012

In this new, occasional American Robotnik feature, I’ll share articles shedding light on various aspects of American society and culture. The readings will have inspired me, informed my thinking and writing, or simply sparked interest in the issues they discuss. I also hope they’ll help you along your acculturation curve. Enjoy. “All the Single Ladies” by Kate Bolick, The Atlantic, November 2011 – On the crumbling institution of marriage and the rise of a single woman. “Why Craft Booze Is Booming” by Ken Walczak, GOOD, December 9 – Umm, because it’s delicious? “How American […] Continue reading >

Dec 222011
Christmas in America: Happy Birthday, Jesus

They say Christmas in the U.S. begins the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday. Consider, then, for a moment, the people whose devotion to Christmas extends into much of their year and whom Jesse Rieser has photographed for his series, “Christmas in America: Happy Birthday, Jesus”: Beyond the glowing green and red lights, past the shimmering silvery tinsel, around the fragrant pine boughs, another Christmas lingers, a Christmas of contradictions. This Christmas is complex and at times, uncomfortable. It’s awkward and sometimes bleak. But it is also sincere and celebratory, colorful and creative. […] Continue reading >

Dec 132011
Roma Journeys to the Blue Sky

Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery has been on my radar screen since I discovered that it occasionally features photographs from Central/Eastern Europe. Over the past few years, I’ve seen, for example, Julie Denesha’s “Outcasts of Slovakia” (June 2009), Evžen Sobek’s “Life in Blue” (Czech Republic, May 2011), and Dana Popa’s “not Natasha” (Romania/Moldova, October 2011). Showing at Blue Sky Gallery in December, Joakim Eskildsen’s “The Roma Journeys” takes up where Julie Denesha left off. “The Roma Journeys” at Blue Sky is a selection from more than 300 images Joakim Eskildsen compiled on his travels through […] Continue reading >

Dec 072011
Crossing Borders for Love or Business

Two recent issues of The Economist featured articles exploring international marriage and diaspora business networks. Let’s take a look at each article from American Robotnik’s perspective. International Marriage and You Most Central Europeans I know in the U.S. (“my generation”) have come or stayed because of love and its legal expression, marriage. In “Herr and Madame, Señor and Mrs”, the thrust of the argument is that even though they’re tricky to define and data are scarce, international marriages are on the rise because “they reflect—and result from—globalization”. The U.S. […] Continue reading >