The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
An inventive, wholly original look at the complex psyche of Eastern Europe in the wake of the revolutions of 1989 and the opening of the communist archives.
In the tradition of Timothy Garton Ash’s The File, Yale historian and prize-winning author Marci Shore draws upon intimate understanding to illuminate the afterlife of totalitarianism. The Taste of Ashes spans from Berlin to Moscow, moving from Vienna in Europe’s west through Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw and Bucharest to Vilnius and Kiev in the post-communist east. The result is a shimmering literary examination of the ghost of communism – no longer Marx’s “specter to come” but a haunting presence of the past.
Marci Shore builds her history around people she came to know over the course of the two decades since communism came to an end in Eastern Europe: her colleagues and friends, once-communists and once-dissidents, the accusers and the accused, the interrogators and the interrogated, Zionists, Bundists, Stalinists and their children and grandchildren. For them, the post-communist moment has not closed but rather has summoned up the past: revolution in 1968, Stalinism, the Second World War, the Holocaust. The end of communism had a dark side. As Shore pulls the reader into her journey of discovery, reading the archival records of people who are themselves confronting the traumas of former lives, she reveals the intertwining of the personal and the political, of love and cruelty, of intimacy and betrayal. The result is a lyrical, touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, portrayal of how history moves and what history means.
Kundera’s generation become Stalinists in their youth? Why in 1946 did the communists win 38 percent of the vote in genuinely free elections? How was Stalinism in Czechoslovakia able to happen? “Kundera’s past as a young Stalinist,” Martin wrote to me later, “was actually forgotten or pushed away from national memory.” Martin’s father had been of Kundera’s generation. And during all the years of debates about communism between father and son, Martin had never once asked his father if, in the
European intellectuals’ responses to totalitarianism read excerpts from an early version of this manuscript. I thank them for their goodwill, their enthusiasm, and their thoughts. I completed a draft of this book at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna, a very special place, and the only institution where I have ever felt “at home.” I owe my having found my way there to the late Tony Judt, whose loss can never be made okay. This is a book that is unusually beholden to (the
intelligentsia family, exiled to the provinces by the capital’s housing shortage. A girl sitting beside Tereza added that in the morning, when they’d learned the heat was broken, their math teacher had warned them that she would report anyone wearing shoes to the feared headmaster. I hardly understood what to make of this. I only said it was cold, and they should put on their shoes. I promised to take full responsibility: no one would be reported to the headmaster. Still they hesitated, unsure,
Poles: the Jewish resistance had not intended to impress the Poles with their uprising—yet it happened that way. The Polish underground was impressed, despite their willful lack of interest, for they feared that an uprising in the ghetto would bring about a general uprising in Warsaw before the moment was right. They feared, too, that the Jews were communists. If I really wanted to understand the war, I began to realize, I should be in Warsaw. For Czechoslovakia, the trauma of the betrayal at
friendships will surely not find themselves in last place. Aleksander Masiewicki, a communist since his youth, now was convinced that the image of an ideal, just society, happy and free, was but a utopia born in the minds of nineteenth-century dreamers. To his former teacher Adolf Berman he wrote: I no longer nourish illusions that at some time the “ultimate goal”—which generations of fighters for the so-called “better future” have dreamed of—will be achieved. For in reality that “future”