Exit into History

Exit into History

by Eva Hoffman

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hoffman ( Lost in Translation ) here proves herself a first-rate guide to Eastern Europe, offering vivid snapshots of conditions in the former Soviet satellites. Visiting her native Poland, she spends time with the co-editor of one of the country's most successful newspapers, who describes her hellish past hiding in the underground; interviews a handful of women who demonstrate against an upcoming bill (that has subsequently passed) to outlaw abortion; attends a meeting of uncloseted artistocrats; and hears Adam Michnik's take on his breakup with Lech Walesa. Hoffman finds an unrepentant ex-censor who now aggressively scouts commercial fiction for a publishing house, and she debates with a taxi driver who, although he doesn't know any Jews, spouts anti-Semitic comments. In the Czech Republic, a woman whose father, a Communist official, was imprisoned after a 1953 show trial and whose husband was a prominent activist in the Prague Spring, recalls how society treated her as a pariah. Hoffman encounters Hungarians who are asked for favors by neighbors who formerly informed on them; she visits a tragic Rumanian orphanage and meets a Bulgarian dissident whose parents have stayed in the Party despite their disillusionments. This masterful mix of the personal and the political should render the new Eastern Europe accessible to a wide American audience. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Hoffman, who emigrated from Poland to Canada when she was 13--an experience she recounted in her memoir, Lost in Translation ( LJ 1/89)--returned to her homeland in 1989 to witness ``history in the making'' in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and the splintering Czechoslovakia. She talks with citizens from all walks of life (from intellectuals to workers to dissidents-cum-leaders), and her observations are fresh and thoughtful. Like Andrew Nagorski's Birth of Freedom ( LJ 9/1/93), Hoffman's book will most likely whet the appetites of readers new to Eastern Europe, while her observations on historical events will also satisfy readers familiar with the region. Unlike Nagorski, Hoffman is more introspective and tentative, making this much more an intellectually stimulating personal journey than a journalistic account. Recommended.-- Joseph Parsons, Columbia Coll., Chicago
Kirkus Reviews
In a superb successor to her impressive personal memoir, Lost in Translation (1988), Hoffman chronicles two trips taken a year apart to de-Sovietized East Europe—touring her native Poland, as well as Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. In each place, Hoffman talks to people (with the weight perhaps shifted inescapably to literati, political sophisticates, high achievers) and takes a remarkably humane measure of the confusions, hopes, and lavish soulfulness born of unsentimental realism that's Mitteleuropa's greatest resource. She reliably detects nuance because, in a sense, she expects to find it ("History is a process of double-ledger accounting"). Sociology never overtly jogs her focus, yet she avails herself of large, thoughtful revelations: "It may be that just as tonality recurs in music and realism in painting, so the idea of liberalism recurs in politics—though each time in a different vein. Eastern European liberalism seems not so much born again as refined in the crucible of successive skepticisms. It has seen the dangers of fanaticism, dogmatism, and cynicism; the dangers of too much belief and none at all." The people she talks to seem to be master self-modulators: victims but not eternal victims, needy but never without humor, aware of nationhood the way no Western patriot quite manages to be. And the book's easily as good just as sheer travel-writing. Hoffman stays open to the physical gorgeousness of Prague, the high civilization of Budapest hotel baths, the odd survival of the Transylvanian Gypsy nonculture—and she falls in love with Bulgaria (for the Bulgarians' innate poise and lack of spiritual turmoil), just as poor Romania,plaything of a madman, seems the most cursed nation of all after the spasms of 1989. From each land Hoffman is able to generalize only when it seems called for, and to refrain from generalizing when the broad view might only obscure: a rare thing. A remarkable book. (One map)

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Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
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