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In this delightful collection of essays--by turns wry and reflective, wistful and witty--contemporary Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk turns his attention to the villages and small towns of Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Albania, and of course his native Poland. Stasiuk travels to places no tourist would think of visiting, and in his characteristically lyrical prose, lays out his own unique and challenging perspective on the fascinating, unknown heart of Central Europe. He reminds us of the area's extraordinarily rich ...
In this delightful collection of essays--by turns wry and reflective, wistful and witty--contemporary Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk turns his attention to the villages and small towns of Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Albania, and of course his native Poland. Stasiuk travels to places no tourist would think of visiting, and in his characteristically lyrical prose, lays out his own unique and challenging perspective on the fascinating, unknown heart of Central Europe. He reminds us of the area's extraordinarily rich cultural and ethnic makeup, explores its literature, and shows how its history is inscribed permanently in its landscapes. Above all, he describes with fascination how past, present, and future co-exist and intertwine along the highways and back roads of the region.
Dalkey Archive Press
Posted July 13, 2010
My final impression, closing this book, was that Andrzej Stasiuk loves people. His essay collection, Fado, demonstrates this as he examines the peoples of the former Yugoslavia and the other regions that form Central Europe. In all, he writes with obvious affection for the human condition surviving in a complicated place and time. He quietly observes people and their activities: from children playing games, the routines of the working man, the women washing their steps, and the teenagers pining for escape to the West. This is not a travel journal, told by a curious visitor. Stasiuk resides there and his impressions are that much more knowledgeable and profound.
It begins with a road trip, a car driving at night in the rain. It starts out as almost a romance with the land, and he reflects on the dark houses he passes, and how no matter what ethnic heritage a person has, they are all the same when asleep in their beds. A map is essential to reading this, as he goes to a variety of cities and recounts what he sees as well as historical details and anecdotal stories from each individual place.
Much of his writing discusses the changes from Communism to newer political states, some still in their infancy (Slovakia). The past is complicated in Central Europe, and progress is equally difficult. Of Montenegro, he writes:
"Everything that was, becomes rejected in the name of a modernity that assumes the nature of a fiction, an illusion, a devilish apparition. To a greater or lesser extent this applies to all postcommunist countries. But it's only in Montenegro that it can all be observed within the space of ten miles."
This battle between old traditions and new identities is a continual subject, but it remains fascinating because each town he visits handles the conflict differently. He talks about the emptiness that is felt in places, where modernization has left many without a purpose. Yet he uses almost poetic words to describe these impressions:
Of Pogradec, "Pool has taken over the town. That noble game, combining geometrical abstraction with kinetics, allows a person to forget the everyday. The men circled the tables like they were hypnotized. They moved back, moved forward, judged distances, stepped on tiptoe and held their breath as if afraid that the moving spheres would change direction and the cosmic harmony of the game would be disturbed." It's not difficult to see the underlying correlation with the region in finding their place in history after the divisions of Russia and Yugoslavia.
In Levoka, he observes the local police, who group together in anticipation of a rebellion by Gypsy residents. The violence never occurs, but the image of the bored policemen, playing with their police dog and throwing snowballs, reveals a truism of the place: "Brute force, tedium, and play were combined in perfect proportions, but instinct told you that any one of these three elements could take over at any moment, and for no particular reason."
In another essay he writes about the changing of the face of paper currency throughout Russia and the Slavic states. In earlier years, the images featured working men and women in simple settings. The implied meaning being hard work garnered money.
remainder of review at www.theblacksheepdances.com