Melancholy of Rebirth: Essays from Post-Communist Central Europe, 1989-1994

George Konrad, Author, Gyorgy Konrad, Author
George Konrad, Author, Gyorgy Konrad, Author Mariner Books $12 (176p) ISBN 978-0-15-600252-3
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If anything can be melancholy and optimistic at the same time, it is this collection of 26 speeches, essays, diary entries and more. After a close call with the Nazis, the Hungarian Jewish author of The Case Worker later ran afoul of the Communists. Having seen the worst of both right and left, Konrad is a cheerleader for democracy and individualism. But the buoyant enthusiasm of 1989 is quickly replaced by a warier voice as the struggle for independence takes on ultranationalistic and anti-Semitic overtones. Soon he's not merely cheerleader but umpire as well, trying to encourage the best and thwart the worst in intellectuals, Hungarian Croats and Serbs, and just plain folk. That it provides an opportunity to watch this change is probably this collection's greatest value. As analysis, it falls a bit short: Perhaps because of his own intense longing (and the rhetoric needed to inspire others), Konrad tends to be naive about both Hungary and its Western models (he ignores the likes of Jean Marie Le Pen when he notes, ``Mature nations have put flaming egocentrism behind them.... ordinary people suddenly puff up with a belief in their unique mission, often just after a successful demagogue... has appeared on the scene, dazzling them with his megalomaniacal dream''). While Heim touches on additional points in his afterword, further contextualization would have been helpful for readers who don't remember much about the Democratic Charter or Sandor Petofi. (Apr.)
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