I remember while I was in school, I scored fairly well in Geography. As the iron curtain came down, the break-up of USSR Soviet Union into various nations had probably made learning Geography very difficult, and the whole of eastern Europe became a blur to me. Not inclined to go back to textbooks, I decided Michael Palin’s account of New Europe would give me an overall view of the region.
I have read the first 57 pages of the book last year on the beautiful, glossy, full of amazing photo shots hardback edition. The reason I didn’t finish it last year was because I found myself lack the patience of sitting in a proper position and holding a 1.5kg hardback and reading it. So when I found the paperback I decided to give it another go. And so the story jumped out of the page in ease, without being distracted by the beautiful photos. The only setback is that not every picture from the hardback is included in this paperback. You can’t have everything, can you?
For the third book in Three’s a crowd: travel with a mission reading theme, Michael Palin set out on a discovery journey of the new Europe. From the snowy of the Julian Alps, beauty of the Baltic seas, Palin finds himself in countries he’d barely heard of (neither do I), many unfamiliar and mysterious, all with tragic histories and much brighter futures.
I make notes along the way, like a history lesson, I wanted to have a good overview of the new European countries and the ones who is in queue or (in dispute, like Turkey) to join the EU. In my mind I clustered them into these categories:
- The early adopters: Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
- Recent joiners: Bulgaria and Romania
- Ex-Yugoslavia: Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina (last 2 not a EU member yet)
- Ex-Czechoslovakia: Czech Republic and Slovakia
- The poorest: Albania, Macedonia, Moldova
- The Superpowers: ex-East Germany and Russia, Kalingrad
- The unheard of autonomous region of Republic of Srpska, Transdniestar and Gagauzia.
- The under EU consideration: Ukraine and Turkey (including Serbia)
The mere mention of countries and cities in Europe conjured up many of the images and books that I have read for past one year.
- We were thinking of investing in Sofia, Bulgaria when we found out how cheap a vineyard costs.
- My husband’s vivid narration of Istanbul, Turkey, still stays in my mind.
- Stephenie Meyer’s twilight series allude to Translyvannia, Romania as the birth place of the vampire myth (myth or reality, depending on your belief!)
- I saw vivid execution images of Nicolas Ceausescu and wife (dictator of Romania) on Christmas Day 1989 in BBC documentary, a month ago.
- I read about Kiev, Ukraine, in The Road Home by Rose Tremain, about life of an Ukranian immigrant in London. One of my favourite book.
- Anyone would not forget about Auschwitz (Polish: Oświęcim) camp in The Schindler’s list, I watched it in Summer of 2007.
- Read about Dresden, Germany in the Book thief by Markus Zusak, where we are reminded the civilians of Germany are also the casualties of WWII.
- Read about Tallin, Estonia, in The Girl who Played with Fire by stieg Larsson, about sex trafficking trade in Sweden, and noticed how geographically close it is between Tallin and Stockholm.
- Read about the Moldova in the Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, which tells you if you why Moldova is the last country on earth if you want to find happiness.
- Read about Serbia in-depth from the book With their backs against the world : A portrait of Serbia by Åsne Seierstad.
- First hand experience with a Latvian who study a short stint as my classmate in the MBA course and had to quit because she is receiving treatments in Germany for an impaired immune system due to many years of drug intake to become the national swimmer of Latvia.
What did I get out most from reading this book? Besides brief history and its people, these are countries and cities I hope to be included in my travel plans and places to visit before I die 🙂 :
- Budapest, Romania
- Istanbul and Cappadocia, Turkey
- Krakow and Auschwitz, Poland
- Croatia and Montenegro
- Berlin, Germany
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Bucharest, Romania
My political view of the break-up of Eastern Europe is both devastating and hopeful. Devastating because these little countries are left to fend for themselves, often subjected to neighbouring superpowers manipulations. The governance and people mentality of Eastern Europeans are light years behind of those from the sophisticated Western Europeans. Imagine USA one day were to broken up into 50 states, it wouldn’t have the credibility required to be superpower and its negotiation power would be greatly debilitated. A validation and support for such break-ups goes on to affirm preference for schismatic republics and regional beliefs that people have the right to govern themselves based on differences in religion (Christians vs. Muslims), Ethnicity (Bosnian vs. Serbs etc.) and political (Free-market vs. Communism) ideologies. It goes against the one-world view of racial tolerance, equality and diversity, human rights etc. However, what is done is done. Fraught with horrendous human tragedies and genocides happened in the last century, I wish the eastern European good luck in their future endeavours. Whether it is about prosperity or EU membership acceptance, I wish they rise up from their past traumatic experiences and move towards a brighter future.
What I like most about it:
A great crash course in Eastern Europe with beautiful travel pictures and down to earth encounter with the locals.
What I like least about it:
It was noted at the acknowledgement section that the book is written by Palin’s assistant dictated by Palin’s voice recording. At times, it appears impersonal and distant in his attempt to present the tragedies of the Eastern Europeans in the book.