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Remaining Relevant after Communism: The Role of the Writer in Eastern Europe [Hardcover]

Andrew Baruch Wachtel

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Book Description

Feb. 1 2006
More than any other art form, literature defined Eastern Europe as a cultural and political entity in the second half of the twentieth century. Although often persecuted by the state, East European writers formed what was frequently recognized to be a "second government," and their voices were heard and revered inside and outside the borders of their countries. This study by one of our most influential specialists on Eastern Europe considers the effects of the end of communism on such writers.

According to Andrew Baruch Wachtel, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the creation of fledgling societies in Eastern Europe brought an end to the conditions that put the region's writers on a pedestal. In the euphoria that accompanied democracy and free markets, writers were liberated from the burden of grandiose political expectations. But no group is happy to lose its influence: despite recognizing that their exalted social position was related to their reputation for challenging political oppression, such writers have worked hard to retain their status, inventing a series of new strategies for this purpose. Remaining Relevant after Communism considers these strategies—from pulp fiction to public service—documenting what has happened on the East European scene since 1989.

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"Carefully reasoned and researched."
(Robert Murray Davis Transitions)

"A timely and interesting perspective on significant trends in 'Writings from an Unbound Europe.'"
(Harold B. Segel German Quarterly Book Review)

"For specialists in a particular region or literature, this book offers a comparative overview of postcommunist literary strategies across national borders. For advanced undergraduates, this book will provide a highly informative, always clear and interesting textbook on the intersections between politics and culture, markets and society. Reading East European literature may suddenly become relevant again."
(Yvonne Howell Slavic and Eastern European Journal)

"Ambitious, bold, and engagingly written; it will serve as a helrful introduction to the recent cultural poitics of the region. . . . A book that will not leave its readers indifferent, and will likely provoke impassioned response from some of them--and this is surely a remarkable accomplishment for a scholarly monograph."
(Vitaly Chernetsky Russian Review)

About the Author

Andrew Baruch Wachtel is the Bertha and Max Dressler Professor in the Humanities, director of the Center for International and Comparative Studies, and dean of the Graduate School at Northwestern University. He is the author or editor of numerous works, including Making a Nation, Breaking a Nation: Literature and Cultural Politics in Yugoslavia, which has been translated into Serbian, Romanian, and Slovene.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read and a must for readers of East European work Sept. 7 2009
By slovakgirl5 - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a rarity in today's literary finds: a discussion of contemporary post-communist eastern European writers, most of whom have been translated into English. Written in a conversational tone, the eminent Professor Wachtel utilizes loads of literary references and quotations (so please thoroughly expect your to-do reading list to expand exponentially). Throughout the text, interspersed within chapters like "Writers and Politics" and "Writers and Journalism," he discusses some of my established EE faves like Havel, Ugresic, Drakulic and Limonov.

I got introduced to feminist writers like Oksana Zabuzhko (Ukraine); Liliana Ursu (Romania) and Kinga Dunin of Poland. Wachtel makes an excellent point that writers like Dunin will need to continue using academic/feminist jargon concerning women's issues since Eastern Europe is, in my opinion, 30 years behind the US on such matters. I also got acquainted with the Russian writer Vladimir Makanin, although I felt the author's review of his Underground was too lengthy.

In the middle of the book, the author goes into a fairly lengthy discussion of Andrei Makine's Dreams of my Russian summers and the journalistic work of Tatyana Tolstaya. Neither emerge too favorably as it is felt that their works portray Russian in a too cliched-ridden and stereotype-promoting mode.

Wachtel devotes much ink to Russian writer and political activist Edvard Limonov, one of the more interesting nationalist politicians of our time. Limonov is discussed indepth in no less than two sections of the book and there are even some b&w fotos of him in military garb.

If you're like me and found Jachym Topol's City Sister Silver a difficult read, you'll appreciate the author's excellent, insightful breakdown into this important (although obscure) work.

In the final chapter on Popular Fiction in Eastern Europe, Michal Viewegh's Bringing up girls in Bohemia is discussed intelligently (although it may carry the popular fiction label).

One would think that Russian writer Viktor Pelevin would garner more ink in this seminal work, but he is only mentioned spporadically throughout the book.

All in all, Prof. Wachtel does a great job of dissecting the place of writers today in post-communist Eastern Europe. And at $29.00, it's a steal.

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