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A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland Paperback – October 6, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0674019492 ISBN-10: 0674019490

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674019490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674019492
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A Biography of No Place is one of the most original and imaginative works of history to emerge in the western literature on the former Soviet Union in the last ten years. Historiographically fearless, Kate Brown writes with elegance and force, turning this history of a lost, but culturally rich borderland into a compelling narrative that serves as a microcosm for understanding nation and state in the Twentieth Century. With compassion and respect for the diverse people who inhabited this margin of territory between Russia and Poland, Kate Brown restores the voices, memories, and humanity of a people lost. (Lynne Viola, Professor of History, University of Toronto)

Samuel Butler and Kate Brown have something in common. Both have written about Erewhon with imagination and flair. I was captivated by the courage and enterprise behind this book. Is there a way to write a history of events that do not make rational sense? Kate Brown asks. She proceeds to give us a stunning answer. (Modris Eksteins, author of Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age)

Kate Brown tells the story of how succeeding regimes transformed a onetime multiethnic borderland into a far more ethnically homogeneous region through their often murderous imperialist and nationalist projects. She writes evocatively of the inhabitants' frequently challenged identities and livelihoods and gives voice to their aspirations and laments, including Poles, Ukrainians, Germans, Jews, and Russians. A Biography of No Place is a provocative meditation on the meanings of periphery and center in the writing of history. (Mark von Hagen, Professor of History, Columbia University)

From the Inside Flap

This is a biography of a borderland between Russia and Poland, a region where, in 1925, people identified as Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians lived side by side. Over the next three decades, this mosaic of cultures was modernized and homogenized out of existence by the ruling might of the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, and finally, Polish and Ukrainian nationalism. By the 1950s, this "no place" emerged as a Ukrainian heartland, and the fertile mix of peoples that defined the region was destroyed. Brown's study is grounded in the life of the village and shtetl, in the personalities and small histories of everyday life in this area. In impressive detail, she documents how these regimes, bureaucratically and then violently, separated, named, and regimented this intricate community into distinct ethnic groups. Drawing on recently opened archives, ethnography, and oral interviews that were unavailable a decade ago, A Biography of No Place reveals Stalinist and Nazi history from the perspective of the remote borderlands, thus bringing the periphery to the center of history. Brown argues that repressive national policies grew not out of chauvinist or racist ideas, but the very instruments of modern governance - the census, map, and progressive social programs - first employed by Bolshevik reformers in the western borderlands. We are given, in short, an intimate portrait of the ethnic purification that has marked all of Europe, as well as a glimpse at the margins of twentieth century "progress." Kate Brown is Assistant Professor of History at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Extremely well written, well researched, and fascinating!
A. Kirchenbauer
So there is no basis to make historic or ethnographic conclusions that the author is trying to make in the book.
Andriy
This book is a great look into soviet culture and the way they treated the people of this region.
Mr. Sincere

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jason on June 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
A Biography of No Place is not really a biography of the borderland region in Ukraine, but rather concerns the creation and evolution of ethnic and national identities by competing actors inside and outside the region. As Brown shows, the idea of nationality was often imposed on the region, where both nationality and ethnicity had previously been non-existent or fluid.

While the book takes some detours, for me it ultimately succeeds in condemning the 20th century as the century when the modern nation state successfully imposed it's will over all of Europe - leaving millions dead as a result. In addition to many other lessons, the book really points out the pitfalls in viewing historical conflicts as one ethnicity vs. another. Reading the book left also me wondering if modern economic development in any way correlated with the existence of clear national and ethnic typologies or vice-versa?

One of my criticisms of the book include the author often going into vague historical psycho-analysis without providing concrete sufficient evidence to bolster her claims. The chapter entitled "Ghosts in the Bathhouse" is also ultimately unsatisfying as the author seems to suggest that the ghosts, faeries, and rusalki of the region might actually be real. Some readers might dismiss a good portion of this chapter as post-modern equivocation. The author also never really clearly explains the history the Ukrainian Catholic Church or defines "Ukrainian Catholics."

Overall though, the book is engaging book for anyone interested in the history of Ukraine, Soviet history, or more generally the creation of the modern nation state and ethnicity in Europe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jan Peczkis on July 4, 2012
Format: Paperback
Although Kresy often is used by Poles in reference to the eastern half of Poland confiscated by the USSR in 1939 (during the Nazi-Communist war against Poland) and again in 1944 (following the Teheran betrayal of Poland), the author refers primarily to the areas just east of the Riga line.

Throughout the interwar period, Ukrainians had been accusing Poles of skewing the census to minimize the Ukrainian population in the Kresy. Ironic to this, Poles living in the Soviet Union, the 1922, accused Ukrainian officials of deliberately undercounting the Polish population of the then western parts of the Soviet Ukraine. (p. 41).

Brown comments: "At the turn of the century, Poles counted as 3-5% of the population but retained 40-50% of the manorial land in the Volynia, Podolia, and Kiev provinces." (p. 242). Although Poles were strongly overrepresented among large landowners, the Soviet Communist and Ukrainian nationalist propaganda that characterized the local Poles as wealthy landowners was manifestly incorrect. Most large landowners were not Poles and, of course, the vast majority of local Poles were not large landowners! Still, the Polish presence and influence in much of the Ukraine was considerable despite over fifty years of tsarist efforts to de-Polonize the area. (p. 4).

The author elaborates on the Marchlevsk Polish Autonomous Region in the Soviet Ukraine. Founded in 1925, it was located 60 miles ESE of Rivno (Rowne) and 40 miles east of the Riga line. (See map, unmarked page ix). It shows the complexity of nationality, and the ambiguity of any line dividing Poles from Ukrainians. About 70% of the population of Marchlevsk was nominally Polish (p. 21), although there were cities such as Proskuriv, Novograd-Volynsk, and Zhytomyr (30% Polish: p.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Julie on January 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
I found the "Biography of No Place" to be a real page turner. The description of the region was so intriguing I didn't want to put it down. I highly recommend this incredibly iInteresting history of a place I never knew existed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Leila Corcoran on December 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
One of the best history books I've read in ages. Kate Brown's knack for description leaves you thinking about the people and places she's written about long after the book is over.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Andriy on December 5, 2011
Format: Paperback
I was born and grew up in the region described by the author. Even after reading introduction I can conclude that the downside of this book is that it is taken out of context - only times of end of 19th and 20th centuries are reviewed and taken into consideration. So there is no basis to make historic or ethnographic conclusions that the author is trying to make in the book.
This bias of out of context even leads to the classification of the book as "Polish History".

On the other hand I appreciate the effort of the author to research and bring to English-speaking public information about the territories of Ukraine that has ancient history including Kyiv Rus' and Kozaks state formations. I would like to see the latest papers of the author and hope they are better researched.
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