Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny

Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny


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*As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered*

“Utterly original.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr. Szabłowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it.” —Timothy Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom

An incisive, humorous, and heartbreaking account of people in formerly Communist countries holding fast to their former lives, by the acclaimed author of How to Feed a Dictator 

For hundreds of years, Bulgarian Gypsies trained bears to dance, welcoming them into their families and taking them on the road to perform. In the early 2000s, with the fall of Communism, they were forced to release the bears into a wildlife refuge. But even today, whenever the bears see a human, they still get up on their hind legs to dance.
In the tradition of Ryszard Kapuściński, award-winning Polish journalist Witold Szabłowski uncovers remarkable stories of people throughout Eastern Europe and in Cuba who, like Bulgaria’s dancing bears, are now free but who seem nostalgic for the time when they were not. His on-the-ground reporting—of smuggling a car into Ukraine, hitchhiking through Kosovo as it declares independence, arguing with Stalin-adoring tour guides at the Stalin Museum, sleeping in London’s Victoria Station alongside a homeless woman from Poland, and giving taxi rides to Cubans fearing for the life of Fidel Castro—provides a fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule.

From the Introduction:
“Guys with wacky hair who promise a great deal have been springing up in our part of the world like mushrooms after rain. And people go running after them, like bears after their keepers. . . . Fear of a changing world, and longing for someone . . . who will promise that life will be the same as it was in the past, are not confined to Regime-Change Land. In half the West, empty promises are made, wrapped in shiny paper like candy. And for this candy, people are happy to get up on their hind legs and dance.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143129745
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/06/2018
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,153,190
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Witold Szabłowski is an award-winning Polish journalist and the author of How to Feed a Dictator. At age twenty-five he became the youngest reporter at one of Poland’s largest daily newspapers, where he covered international stories in countries including Cuba, South Africa, and Iceland, and won awards for his features on the problem of illegal immigrants flocking to the EU and the 1943 massacre of Poles in Ukraine. His book about Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City, won two awards and was nominated for Poland’s most prestigious literary prize. Szabłowski lives in Warsaw.

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I. Love

Excerpted from "Dancing Bears"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Witold Szablowski.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Maps x

Introduction xiii

Part 1

I Love 3

II Freedom 19

III Negotiations 31

IV History 45

V Instincts 61

VI Hibernation 69

VII Lions to Africa 73

VIII Castration 79

IX Dancing Bears 88

X The End 93

Part 2

I Love 103

Cuba: The McRevolution Is Coming

II Freedom 117

Poland / United Kingdom: Lady Peron

III Negotiations 128

Ukraine: Nothing Bleeps for the Smugglers

IV History 141

Albania: The End of the Concrete Toadstools

V Instincts 151

Estonia: Tea with the Invader

VI Hibernation 166

Poland: Hobbits at the State Farm

VII Lions to Africa 179

Serbia: Pop Art Radovan

Serbia: Chickens for the Serbs

VIII Castration 207

Georgia: Stalin's Vestal Virgins

IX Dancing Bears 220

Greece: We'll Sweep Capitalism Away

Acknowledgments 235

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