cover image Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land

Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land

Jacob Mikanowski. Pantheon, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4850-0

In this ambitious debut, journalist Mikanowski draws on his ancestral connections to Eastern Europe to deliver a stunning portrait of a “land of small states with complicated fates.” Highlighting the region’s diversity and his own Polish-Jewish-Catholic roots, Mikanowski surveys 1,000 years of tumultuous history, describing how pagan belief systems survived in Eastern Europe until the 1200s and the impact of the Holy Roman, Ottoman, and Habsburg empires, all of which ruled the region from a safe distance. Vivid sketches of religious sects such as the Hussites, followers of the Czech priest Jan Hus, brush up against insightful profiles of Eastern Europe’s many diasporic peoples, including nomadic Vlachs of the Balkan highlands, Sufi dervishes, and Romas. Describing his ancestral homeland as “a powder keg, a nest of assassins, a tangle of murderous animosities,” Mikanowski notes that in 1919 alone, six different armies battled in Ukraine, and Kiev changed hands five times. With Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, and Romania allied to Nazi Germany during WWII, the Holocaust “effected a profound, almost metaphysical unraveling of the social fabric.” Following the war, the “brief elation and prolonged terror of Stalinism” evolved into an atmosphere of “stasis and scarcity” that settled over the Eastern Bloc until the 1990s, which saw the rise of Solidarity movement in Poland, the independence of former-Soviet republics, and the 1991–1995 war in Yugoslavia. Shot through with lyrical reflections and astute analysis, this is a rewarding portrait of diverse and complex part of the world. (July)