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Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe Hardcover – October 11, 1994

4.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Traveling the uncertain land between Eastern and Western Europe, Applebaum recounts her three-month journey and the people she meets, typified by a man who was born in Poland, raised in the Soviet Union and now living in Belarus-yet he has never left his village. The territorial borders of many towns in Eastern Europe have been redrawn so often over the centuries that such villages are called kresy, meaning they belong to no one in particular. The American-born Applebaum, who is the foreign editor of the London Spectator and has residences in Poland and England, shows herself as a journalist of sturdy competence, smart and shrewd. She speaks Polish and Russian and is well read in Eastern European history. Applebaum travels from kresy to kresy in dilapidated private autos she hires, although on occasion she must walk; the few hotels are seedy and homes where she is sometimes invited to sleep aren't markedly more comfortable. But she's not deterred; Applebaum's receptiveness encourages borderlanders to tell her the myriad of ways that political partitioning has subjugated their personal lives, cultural traditions and languages. She in turn explains to us the nationalism motivating these newly independent people as they try to redefine their true heritages.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The borderlands west of Russia, in east central Europe, have endured frequent changes of hegemony. Citizens of one village may think of themselves as Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, or Moldovan regardless of where the current borders are drawn, as Applebaum discovered during her travels and interviews. An American journalist now living in London, she spent the years 1988-1991 as a free-lancer in Poland and revisited the area from which her great-grandparents had emigrated. The narrative proceeds from Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea to Odessa on the Black Sea, stopping in large cities and small towns; it combines a bit of history from the Middle Ages with tales of contemporary life without the Soviet Union to portray an eclectic mixture of ethnic identity. The vivid descriptions of another way of life would enhance popular collections.
Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (October 11, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679421505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679421504
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #481,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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 challenge:

"Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty; there are many layers of civilization in the borderlands, and they do not lie neatly on top of one another. A ruined medieval church sits on the site of a pagan temple, not far from a mass grave surrounded by a modern town. There is a castle on the hill and a Catholic church at its foot and an Orthodox church beside a ruined synagogue. A traveler can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus--and he has never left his village. To sift through the layers, one needs to practice a kind of visual and aural archaeology, to imagine what the town looked like before the Lenin statue was placed in the square, before the church was converted into a factory and the main street renamed. In a conversation, one must listen to the overtones, guess what the speaker might have said fifty years ago on the same subject, understand that his nationality might then have been different--know, even, that he might have used another language.
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Format: Paperback
"Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty; there are many layers of civilisation in the borderlands, and they do not lie neatly on top of one another. A ruined medieval church sits in the site of a pagan temple, not far from a mass grave surrounded by a modern town. There is a castle on the hill and a Catholic church at its foot and an Orthodox church beside a ruined synagogue. A traveler can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus - and he has never left his village."

As I read Anne Applebaum's introduction I thought "Every historian, every politician should read this in order to understand the damage that ignorance about a place can do. Every historian and politician should read this to understand the complexity of a place." In just a few superb paragraphs Anne paints a picture of persecution, subjugation and the search for identity that must be a part of ALL histories but dominates that of these ethnically-cleansed lands in which cultural genocide is the norm.
I was reminded of the time when, in the early 1990s, countries in the former Soviet Block sought their independence and often fought to establish what they felt was rightfully their heritage, English colleagues of mine, wrapped in the comfort of almost a thousand years of security and national identity, would sit baffled and in condemnation of what they saw as this pettiness. They had that same patronising attitude that they often reserve for the Welsh and the Scots when they try to retain a little of what makes them them.
Anne Applebaum is a very good writer - she has a comfortable way of grabbing one's attention and holding it. In her section on Kaliningrad it is almost as if one is in a spy story by le Carre.
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Format: Paperback
I was surprised to see this only got six reviews - though to judge from the price (!) it must have sold OK. AA is quite highly regarded on this side of the pond, and she's certainly put in the legwork here. (Though I suspect whoever arranged the itinerary is the unsung hero.) Maybe it was the non-attention-grabbing title that put folks off; if so, good for her - many's the time I've been snared by a meretricious title like any callow youth lured by a saucy cover. Eccentric, engaging, occasionally searing, this sublime mix of interviews with background history grew on me - and I learned a shedload! More on amazon.co.uk
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Never before have I read a book that so interested me and satisfied my curiosity about the peoples across the Borderlands of Europe. It's a must read for anyone interested in the small stuff that makes up the big stuff and will always matter.
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Format: Hardcover
Because I'm thinking of travelling to part of the area this book covers, I pulled it off the library shelf. It looked intelligent, but not too taxing. That's exactly what it was. Anne Applebaum is a very bright and pleasant companion on this long trip. She is well-informed on the history of these places, speaks the languages needed, often has friends and contacts for us to meet, doesn't complain (despite sometimes horrendous conditions!), has often enlightening and amusing insights and is willing to go into what for me is alarming, uncharted territory. I appreciated the snapshots she chose to illustrate the borderlands. Although I had this book checked out for over a month and often put it down for days at a time - thinking I should return it unfinished - when I picked it up again at last I found charming anecdotes that made me glad I persevered. Several times I googled authors or cities she described, with the hope of delving into them further. The fact that her journey was over 20 years ago did not diminish its relevance and interest. I would recommend this book to anyone intrigued with this area. Although a bit lightweight, it is a relatively pleasant way to grasp an impression of a vast and mysterious land.
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