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Andrzej Stasiuk is a restless and indefatigable traveler. His journeys take him from his native Poland to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine. By car, train, bus, ferry. To small towns and villages with unfamiliar-sounding yet strangely evocative names. “The heart of my Europe,” Stasiuk tells us, “beats in Sokolow, Podlaski, and in Husi, not Andrzej Stasiuk is a restless and indefatigable traveler. His journeys take him from his native Poland to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine. By car, train, bus, ferry. To small towns and villages with unfamiliar-sounding yet strangely evocative names. “The heart of my Europe,” Stasiuk tells us, “beats in Sokolow, Podlaski, and in Husi, not in Vienna.”  Where did Moldova end and Transylvania begin, he wonders as he is being driven at breakneck speed in an ancient Audi—loose wires hanging from the dashboard—by a driver in shorts and bare feet, a cross swinging on his chest. In Comrat, a funeral procession moves slowly down the main street, the open coffin on a pickup truck, an old woman dressed in black brushing away the flies above the face of the deceased. On to Soroca, a baroque-Byzantine-Tatar-Turkish encampment, to meet Gypsies. And all the way to Babadag, between the Baltic Coast and the Black Sea, where Stasiuk sees his first minaret, “simple and severe, a pencil pointed at the sky.”  A brilliant tour of Europe’s dark underside—travel writing at its very best.


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Andrzej Stasiuk is a restless and indefatigable traveler. His journeys take him from his native Poland to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine. By car, train, bus, ferry. To small towns and villages with unfamiliar-sounding yet strangely evocative names. “The heart of my Europe,” Stasiuk tells us, “beats in Sokolow, Podlaski, and in Husi, not Andrzej Stasiuk is a restless and indefatigable traveler. His journeys take him from his native Poland to Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine. By car, train, bus, ferry. To small towns and villages with unfamiliar-sounding yet strangely evocative names. “The heart of my Europe,” Stasiuk tells us, “beats in Sokolow, Podlaski, and in Husi, not in Vienna.”  Where did Moldova end and Transylvania begin, he wonders as he is being driven at breakneck speed in an ancient Audi—loose wires hanging from the dashboard—by a driver in shorts and bare feet, a cross swinging on his chest. In Comrat, a funeral procession moves slowly down the main street, the open coffin on a pickup truck, an old woman dressed in black brushing away the flies above the face of the deceased. On to Soroca, a baroque-Byzantine-Tatar-Turkish encampment, to meet Gypsies. And all the way to Babadag, between the Baltic Coast and the Black Sea, where Stasiuk sees his first minaret, “simple and severe, a pencil pointed at the sky.”  A brilliant tour of Europe’s dark underside—travel writing at its very best.

30 review for On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kinga

    'On the Road to Babadag' won all possible awards in Poland and for a while it was all everybody was reading and talking about. So imagine my disappointment when I started reading it and all I wanted to do was to hurl it against the wall. It’s because I thought this would be a travel book. I thought Stasiuk would leave some small town in Poland and go through Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria etc. until finally he would reach Babadag, Romania where the book would end. 'On the Road to Babadag' won all possible awards in Poland and for a while it was all everybody was reading and talking about. So imagine my disappointment when I started reading it and all I wanted to do was to hurl it against the wall. It’s because I thought this would be a travel book. I thought Stasiuk would leave some small town in Poland and go through Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria etc. until finally he would reach Babadag, Romania where the book would end. It is called On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe, after all. So what else should I expect? I thought Stasiuk would tell me some funny anecdotes. I expected some musing over the cultural differences between here and there. I thought it would be like Michael Palin’s New Europe only written from a perspective of someone actually from that ‘New Europe’. It is not really like that at all. This book is just pure poetry and you have to accept that to be able to read it. As soon as you do, you will embark on a journey that’s one of a kind. Stasiuk’s accounts of his travels are non-linear, context-free, often confusing, full of ‘maybes’ and ‘perhaps’ but what they never lack of is beauty. Even if he is fixated on the subject of animal excrement, he produces the most lyrical description of cow’s shit. Travelling for Stasiuk is not caused by the typical wanderlust. It’s more of a strong urge to be in the ‘here and now’. He writes when describing a trip he took in Poland before the borders opened: “I had no passport then, of course, but it never entered my head to try to get one. The connection between those two words, freedom and passport, sounded grand enough but was completely unconvincing. The nuts and bolts of passport didn’t fit freedom at all. It’s possible that there, outside Gorzów, my mind had fixed on the formula: There’s freedom or there isn’t, period. My country suited me just fine, because its borders didn’t concern me. I lived inside it, in the centre, and that centre went where I went.” This obsession with here and now is obvious throughout the book because Stasiuk’s descriptions are often careless when it comes to detail and context. He disarmingly admits he doesn’t remember where this happened or when, or whether it happened at all. He can only offer a collection of impressions, smells, sounds and sights, maybe a nameless person here and there, some sliver of a dialogue. He stays clear of big cities and famous landmarks. He explores the backwater and laments its disappearance. He does get high on poverty and destitution. You almost get the impression he is offended by every new ATM or internet café which sprouts up in the villages he so fondly remembered to be completely free of any 21st century influence. He wouldn’t be the first and won’t be the last travel writer to fetishise backwardness. We have to forgive him for that because he writes it all so beauitifully: “At the same hour, in that same dying light, cattle were coming home: from Kiev, say, to Split, from my Rozpucie to Skopje, and the same in Stara Zagora. Scenery and architecture may change, and the breed, and the curve of horn or the colour of mane, but the picture remains untouched: between two rows of houses moved a herd sated cattle. They were accompanied by women in kerchiefs and worn boots, or by children. No isolated island of industrialization, no sleepless metropolis, no spiderweb of roads or railroad lines, could block out this image as old as the world. The human joined with the bestial to wait out the night together.” 'On the Road to Babadag' is a lyrical journey through the provinces of Europe and through its subconscious. To Stasiuk that Europe is all that there is, that’s the centre of his universe, it’s where the heart of Europe beats. Thanks to that we are spared witty jibes and superfluous comparisons between East and West.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Declan

    If this photograph by André Kertész takes hold of your thoughts and your imagination, you might understand why Andrzej Stasiuk writes: "It's possible that everything I've written so far began with this photograph...The space of this photograph hypnotizes me, and all my travelling has had only one purpose: to find, at long last, the secret passage into its interior" The strange aspect of this for me is that I, who have never been in Eastern Europe [since I wrote this I have been to Romania, If this photograph by André Kertész takes hold of your thoughts and your imagination, you might understand why Andrzej Stasiuk writes: "It's possible that everything I've written so far began with this photograph...The space of this photograph hypnotizes me, and all my travelling has had only one purpose: to find, at long last, the secret passage into its interior" The strange aspect of this for me is that I, who have never been in Eastern Europe [since I wrote this I have been to Romania, and loved it], long to be there too, and not just in that street where a blind violin player is led across a dusty road by his young son, but in so many of the other photos Kertész took. This one for example I long to be there, following on along that shadowy street as the old man returns to his home after, perhaps, a visit to the nearby bar; a drink and cards with other old men who have lived there all their lives. That longing and that searching pervades every page of this wonderful book. Stasiuk has no interest in events or spectacles or cities with all their aspirations and anxieties. In a small Hungarian town called Gonc he watches a Slovak family emerge, with some hesitation, from a Skoda Octavia and reflects: " This was the sort of thing we wanted to see, not the Hussite House with its "curious wooden bed that pulls out like a drawer", as the guidebook said. What happened on the main street in Gonc was more interesting than what had become mere history. It drew us, because life is made of bits of the present that stay in the mind. The world itself, really, is made of that". Of course what he sees, and how he sees it, is highly subjective. He needs to see those elements of rural societies that seem eternal, fixed, repeated through the generations. "All as it had been for a thousand years". If he finds evidence of change, modernity, the new universal mediocrity, he isn't telling. For him it isn't worth noticing. What makes Stasiuk's point of view special is that it always emerges by engaging with the ordinary: ordinary people, ordinary events. Nowhere in the book is there the slightest sense of his being patronising, of seeing any division between what he is and what anyone else is. This is travel writing by someone who wants to be, as much as to see. Again and again he enters bars that brought the film of Satantango to mind. Lonely, hopeless places where they've never heard about the present. "Clearly I am drawn to decline, decay, to everything that is not as it could or should be". I though too of Bela Tarr's most recent and final film, 'The Turin Horse', when I read about "The odour of monotonous labour chained for centuries to matter...this changing that changes nothing, this movement that expends itself. Some spring, not only will the snow melt, everything else will melt too". Does any of this make sense? Stasiuk prefers to dream the landscape into words than to describe exactly what is there. For him it is more important to evoke the essence of a place than to laboriously describe it in detail. History impinges (there is, for example, a visit to the grave of Nicolae Ceausescu) but it is what remains despite history that sends him on another journey - always on the smaller roads - through Slovakia, Romania, Hungary or Albania, trying to find the secret passage, into their interiors.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Decay and Poverty: "On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe" by Andrzej Stasiuk, Michael Kandel (Trans.) Generally we like to read Polish and foreign fantasy and since-fiction (Stanislaw Lem), of course historic books (everlastings Sienkiewicz and Reymont), and the Polish romantic great trio (Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Norwid), alternatively grotesque pieces (Gombrowicz) rather than novels describing current times. When we do suc If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Decay and Poverty: "On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe" by Andrzej Stasiuk, Michael Kandel (Trans.) Generally we like to read Polish and foreign fantasy and since-fiction (Stanislaw Lem), of course historic books (everlastings Sienkiewicz and Reymont), and the Polish romantic great trio (Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Norwid), alternatively grotesque pieces (Gombrowicz) rather than novels describing current times. When we do such an efforts, it’s very often, like one critic wrote "orgasming with language" kind of literature.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    I would like to be buried in all those places where I've been before and will be again. My head among the green hills of Zemplén, my heart somewhere in Transylvania, my right hand in Chornohora, my left in Spišská Belá, my sight in Bukovina, my sense of smell in Răşinari, my thoughts perhaps in this neighborhood ... This is how I imagine the night when the current roars in the dark and the thaw wipes away the white stains of snow. This is the colorful, often poetic prose of a seasoned travele I would like to be buried in all those places where I've been before and will be again. My head among the green hills of Zemplén, my heart somewhere in Transylvania, my right hand in Chornohora, my left in Spišská Belá, my sight in Bukovina, my sense of smell in Răşinari, my thoughts perhaps in this neighborhood ... This is how I imagine the night when the current roars in the dark and the thaw wipes away the white stains of snow. This is the colorful, often poetic prose of a seasoned traveler who loves to bypass the tourist hype and seek the unknown. Busses, trucks, trains and walking, take him on the more than 200 trips into the countries of his soul. In a bleak landscape filled with debris of war and wasteland, he finds the colorful people in their picturesque environment, writing the history of the geographical wonderland he comes across. Different languages reside next to each other,and in between Russian is still a nostalgic remnant of a recent past. Horse-carts with number plates share roads with rustic old cars. The people are as ignorant of happiness as they are of the future. I tried to follow the author by Googling his route, which resulted in a longer read than actually planned. It nevertheless opened a world to me that was previously just a blur of possibilities, initiatated by images portrayed in travel programs and limited information provided in news programs. We are spurred by the desire to return to the world of dreams, which relieves us of our freedom of will and gives in its place the freedom, absolute, of the unexpected. This happens in places rarely touched by the traveler's eye. Observation irons out objects and landscapes. Destruction and decline follow. The world gets used up, like an old abraded map, from being seen too much... ...The old looks bedraggled, cast off, impotent; the new struts and challenges, wanting to overcome both the shame of the past and the fear of the future. Everything is temporary, ad hoc, a verb whose action is never completed... ...Clearly I am drawn to decline, decay, to everything that is not as it could or should be. Whatever stops in half stride because it lacks the strength or will or imagination to continue. Whatever gives in, gives up, does not last, and leaves no trace. Whatever in its passing stirs no regret or reminiscence. The present imperfect. Histories that live no longer than the relating of them, objects that are only when someone regards them. This is what haunts me—this extra being that everyone can do without, this superfluity that is not wealth, this hiddenness that no one explores, secrets that, ignored, are lost forever, memory that consumes itself. The Balkan States of Eastern Europe are the author's playground, which he visits as often as possible. The small villages on the map disappears as the ink fades, but in reality they also vanish as fast as the political landscape changes. "That's why I rush to make these trips, why I'm so avid for details that will soon vanish and need to be re-created out of words." Unpronouncable, exotic, names are scattered over his journey: Nagykálló, Mátészalka, Nagykálló, Gönc , Kamenice, Vidice, Selenice, Borove, Chişinău... Nobody believes in tomorrow. The here and now simply do not show any signs that it will be different from yesterday. In the square, an air of indifferent symbiosis. Everyone was connected by a time that had to be waited through. Seconds and minutes grew, swelled, and burst open, but there was nothing inside. The book is a confusing read if you try to track his route. The author recalls his past experiences of places when he visited them in different seasons, some of them many years previously and that confuses the reader a bit. Yet, his memories are colorful, often satirical and generously covered by irony. He shares his philosophies and anecdotes and although he finds little reason for optimism he is still infatuated with a region that he deeply loves. He does not hesitate to call a spade a spade, and does not try to hide his observations of the villages he visits. Parody and delirium. One must be born in Huşi to smell the poison of melancholy that eats into mind and soul. One must be born in Huşi, where even the crows turn back, to grasp this dream of glory of the native land, to understand this nightmare... So that was Chişinău. I spent many hours under an umbrella in Green Hills Nistru on the Boulevard of Stephen the Great and Holy, at the corner of Eminescu. In the pub sat a more international gathering, speaking in English and German. Probably office workers who had chosen to throw away their European and American money in this particular spot. Besides them was the growing Moldovan middle class, the men wearing gold, sporting sunglasses, in the common style that combines hood, pimp, and gigolo, the women like the women you see on television, practically all with cell phones on silver chains around their necks. It is not an exciting, fast-paced read, but it sure is entertaining. Apart from having proper guide books visiting these areas, a book like this one, will relieve the boredom of long train rides or futile hours waiting at a border crossing. It might even make you smile. But just reading the book on its own merit guarantees a refreshing look on a world we hardly know. I certainly enjoyed this introduction by this author to his region, where ancient cultures, hundreds of years old, still prevailed, where man and beast never lost their bond, and an industrial revolution ended in rust heaps as man-made as its dark history. At times it was too much, but most of the time I was amazed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    I really don't know how to rate this book. Some parts are insanely delightful and poetic (this man can write a sentence!) but in other parts, my mind drifted away during some unnecessary ongoing descriptions (don't know if that is due to my lack of focus and concentration, I did work a lot these days). But parts that were good, were so original and amazing that this book deserves a high rating after all. I don’t usually read travel journals, but due to the current situation, I wanted an armchair I really don't know how to rate this book. Some parts are insanely delightful and poetic (this man can write a sentence!) but in other parts, my mind drifted away during some unnecessary ongoing descriptions (don't know if that is due to my lack of focus and concentration, I did work a lot these days). But parts that were good, were so original and amazing that this book deserves a high rating after all. I don’t usually read travel journals, but due to the current situation, I wanted an armchair journey. The author travels through Eastern Europe, but he does not go to capitals, big, well-known cities. In his journey, he explores small and nearly abandoned places, with few or no people, and I adored that his traveling is really non-commercial and unique. He takes local people to drive him and guide him through their country. I was always more interested in that kind of traveling through the wilderness and rural areas than visiting big cities. Sometimes when I drive past these kinds of places, I imagine what kind of life people live there. This book provides that answer, as a lot of scenes of everyday life or ordinary people are described. There is also something interesting that the author does in describing the panorama. He doesn’t just describe a material landscape, he tries to portray the soul of the whole country. He paints a picture in which you learn about lands' historical context, psychological characteristics of people who live or lived there, politics (especially interesting due to the fact many countries where communist countries in near history), mixing mythology and philosophy with his inner dialogue. Those were the best parts for me when the author was going deep in the inner state of consciousness and explored how different landscapes and countries affect his state of mind. That is something that really interests me - a connection between external and internal and how one affects the other. I think there is a lot more to be said about that - author himself said that he has to travel due to the inner restlessness. I think that people sometimes gravitate to traveling in pursuit of a deeper exploration of outer but also the inner world. Physical travel can compensate for the psychological journey, or as this book showed, one can be parallel to other. When I think more deeply about this, this author is fascinating (as is his life, I suggest you read about it) and I love the way his mind works in giving verbal structure to pictures of lands mixed with his own stream of consciousness. I have a feeling he is a type of person that looks at everything in search of the deeper layer beneath the surface. I will check out his fiction work for sure. If you are interested in travel journeys, the never-seen face of Eastern Europe, and a very original way of using language, this book is for you.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Left Coast Justin

    Two stars: Not completely without merit, but poorer than average books of this type. The late David Rakoff once described the lobby of his super-chic Parisian hotel as filled with "beautiful people of both sexes draped bonelessly over the furniture." This phrase came back to me while reading Babadag, because this struck me as a travel memoir cast bonelessly over the pages. (Babodag, by the way, is a small town in Romania hard up against the Black Sea. In his book, it had no particular significanc Two stars: Not completely without merit, but poorer than average books of this type. The late David Rakoff once described the lobby of his super-chic Parisian hotel as filled with "beautiful people of both sexes draped bonelessly over the furniture." This phrase came back to me while reading Babadag, because this struck me as a travel memoir cast bonelessly over the pages. (Babodag, by the way, is a small town in Romania hard up against the Black Sea. In his book, it had no particular significance -- I guess he just liked the name.) I gave it a fair shot. For the first hundred pages or so, I was just confused. Stasiuk seemed to be engaged in an interesting experiment: What if all the normal structural elements of a travel memoir were simply stripped out? --Elements such as why the author decided to make the trip, placing the trip in a certain time period and following a coherent itinerary, and occasionally checking in to make some sort of broader point about the differences or similarities between the place being explored and home. So instead, we get something like astronaut.io. For those of you unfamiliar with this, Google has website in which they randomly pull some of the millions of videos uploaded each week and stream them to the astronaut.io website. The only criteria are that the video needs to be less than a week old and viewed by fewer than eight people so far. This means you get a series of very personal videos -- lots of kids playing sports, wedding videos, lectures on soybean production, people dancing goofily and the like. There is no plot, no progression towards a goal, simply a collection of what individuals around the world found interesting enough to upload that week. After a while, I started to understand Stasius' technique -- bit by bit, like dabs of paint on an enormous canvas, an overall portrait of life in Eastern Europe starts to emerge. It is a land in which hard liquor is a not-uncommon breakfast accoutrement. It is easy to lose control of your vehicle when sliding over slicks of cow shit. Smoking is an essential social activity. Older folks bemoan the loss of dictatorships. Stasius himself describes his approach this way: With events that have passed there is no problem, provided we don't attempt to be wiser than they are, provided we don't use them to further our own ends. If we let them be, they turn into a marvelous solution, a magical acid that dissolves time and space, eats calendars and atlases, and turns the coordinates of action into sweet nothingness. What is the meaning of the riddle? What is the use to anyone of chronology, sister of death? And a few pages later: So I repeat my hopeless mantra of names and landscapes, because space dies more slowly than I do and assumes an aspect of immortality. I mutter my geographic prayer, my topographic Hail Marys, chant my litany of the map, to make this carnival of wonders, this Ferris wheel, this kaleidoscope, freeze, stop for a second, with me at the center. I was willing to play along, but this book went on and on and on and on, completely formless. What caused me to drop it to a two-star review was the final twenty percent, in which he felt compelled to share his philosophy. Or at least, fill about 100 pages of incoherent babbling of the "dreams are more real than reality" type, or "places are not real until I see them" variety. I have no patience for this sort of nonsense, expecially when presented as a first draft with no attempts to tighten it up or make it in any way coherent.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Seemed like a 10 page essay that became a 250 page book through repetition repetition and repetition. This is a po-mo travel book -- travel without identifying context, just an endless list of Eastern European place names obscure enough to make you feel at first ashamed of your own ignorance and finally simply annoyed at the repeated refusal to communicate anything that would help us place these places. Travel that loses any purpose bc all the places are the same, simply names. The sense of pove Seemed like a 10 page essay that became a 250 page book through repetition repetition and repetition. This is a po-mo travel book -- travel without identifying context, just an endless list of Eastern European place names obscure enough to make you feel at first ashamed of your own ignorance and finally simply annoyed at the repeated refusal to communicate anything that would help us place these places. Travel that loses any purpose bc all the places are the same, simply names. The sense of poverty, decay and stasis comes through loud and clear, but little else does -- the narrator fetishizes his own imprecision and inability to remember, which on the page becomes frustrating vagueness and for me at least, an inability to care about what he's saying. The occasional hallucinatorily brilliant vignette (the pool party for Romania's jeunesse doree as seen through the eyes of the local filthy feral pig farmer) tells you that there was a more conventionally fascinating travel book to be had here, if only Stasiuk weren't far too cool to write it. As it was, I forced myself, barely, to finish.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Lieberman

    A strange little book. Since the author jumped around a lot, I gave myself permission to read it randomly. I was mostly interested in what he experienced in Hungary, so I searched out those sections first, came across a passage, which I will quote in full, because it gets to the quirky loveliness of Stasiuk's writing: Nothing in Talkibánya, a village that hadn’t changed in a hundred years. Wide, scattered houses under fruit trees. The walls a sulfurous, bilious yellow, the wood carving deep brow A strange little book. Since the author jumped around a lot, I gave myself permission to read it randomly. I was mostly interested in what he experienced in Hungary, so I searched out those sections first, came across a passage, which I will quote in full, because it gets to the quirky loveliness of Stasiuk's writing: Nothing in Talkibánya, a village that hadn’t changed in a hundred years. Wide, scattered houses under fruit trees. The walls a sulfurous, bilious yellow, the wood carving deep brown, the door frames sculpted, the shutters and verandas enduring in perfect symbiosis with the heavy, Baroque abundance of the gardens. The metaphor of settling and taking root appeared to have taken shape here in an ideal way. Not one new house, yet also not one old house in need of repair or renovation. Although we were the only foreigners, we drew no stares. From the stop, in the course of the day, four buses departed. Time melted in the sunlight; around noon, it grew still. In the inn, men sat from the morning on and without haste sipped their palinka and beer in turn. The bartender immediately knew I was a Slav and said, pouring, “dobre” and “na zdorovye.” It was one of those places where you feel the need to stay but have no reason to. Everything exactly as it should be and no one raising a voice or making an unnecessarily abrupt movement. On a slope above the village, the white of a cemetery. From windows of homes, the smell of stewing onions. In market stalls, mounds of melons, paprikas. A woman emerged from a cellar with a glass jug filled with wine. But we left Telkibánya eventually, because nothing ends a utopia quicker than the desire to hold on to it. The entire book is like this, from what I can tell (not sure I read it all since I approached it so unsystematically), and it made me want to travel the way he does. Whimsical, receptive, his romantic tendencies are leavened with a dark Eastern European sensibility that I found irresistible.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    If you enjoy reading about crumbling stucco, peeling paintwork, places forgotten by time and the outside world, the backwaters of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, byways hidden by mist, melancholia, ferries to nowhere, drinking in forlorn bars, decay, the detritus of post-communism, village squares overgrown with untended trees, and sleepy border crossings, then this might be the book for you. All of these things and others dealt with by the Stasiuk, the author, fascinate me, but somehow his book If you enjoy reading about crumbling stucco, peeling paintwork, places forgotten by time and the outside world, the backwaters of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, byways hidden by mist, melancholia, ferries to nowhere, drinking in forlorn bars, decay, the detritus of post-communism, village squares overgrown with untended trees, and sleepy border crossings, then this might be the book for you. All of these things and others dealt with by the Stasiuk, the author, fascinate me, but somehow his book did not grab my attention as tightly as I hoped that it would. Is Stasiuk’s writing poetry, or is it prose that is on the point of becoming poetry? Or, is it an almost meaningless ramble of words trying to evoke the meaning of memory? Whatever it is, one must take one’s hat off to the translator, whose task of bringing this text from Polish into English must have been difficult. And, what a ramble this is. Stasiuk’s memories drift from one place to another often without any discernible geographic logic. The exceptions are the chapters on Albania and Moldovar, which I enjoyed most. Even if this book is not my favourite, it certainly captures the decaying atmosphere of the lesser visited corners of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, places that time and the outside world almost neglect. Every now and then, Stasiuk makes reference to the Romanian writer Emil Cioran (1911-1995), whom I had never heard of before. According to an article in Wikipedia, many of his works express torment, pessimism, and a tragic sense of history. These are some of the aspects of the places that fascinate Stasiuk, although I felt that he conveys a far more optimistic appraisal of the forgotten corners of the fringes of Europe that he visited. This book was recommended to me by a friend. Would I recommend it? I am not sure. If you can read fast, which I cannot, then give it a try. If you are a slow reader, then give it a miss. I have rated this book 3 stars, but I would have liked to have been able to award it, say, 2.75! I almost liked it, but not quite. Maybe the geographic confusion was a little too much for me. I would have preferred a slightly more linear set of journeys. However, as a a literary evocation of the randomness of the memory process, the author has succeeded. If you enjoy the works of W.G. Sebald, then it is likely that this book by Stasiuk will be up your street.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Catalina

    I would say I finish 95% of the books I start. BUt this one didn't make the cut. I picked it up because it was about the Balkans and Eastern Europe- my favourite places. Furthermore, the overarching theme, the second-hand europe, that is not really Europe; a land that frightens most, that is whispered by Westerners with a certain cautionary tone...as the place to travel. I understand how the writer might have wanted to have written this book in such a confusing manner- because we, Eastern EUrope I would say I finish 95% of the books I start. BUt this one didn't make the cut. I picked it up because it was about the Balkans and Eastern Europe- my favourite places. Furthermore, the overarching theme, the second-hand europe, that is not really Europe; a land that frightens most, that is whispered by Westerners with a certain cautionary tone...as the place to travel. I understand how the writer might have wanted to have written this book in such a confusing manner- because we, Eastern EUropeans, are as confused as this book. However, I believe that this book, at least according to its Romanian cover, does not deliver what it promises. On the road to Babadag does not make me want to just pick up my backpack and my tent and just set out to know the least traveled to destinations of this Europe, my part of Europe; but it makes me want to put out the book and if anything try and write one myself. Which in the end I guess it is also a productive feeling you can get from a book. Maybe the best of them all.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthias

    Stasiuk's travelog through a desolate landscape in south-east Europe where people live damaged from war and totalitarian powers is a search for the essential. He finds succinct words for the human condition there which create a counterweight to what otherwise seems desperate; the same counterweight that his restlessness creates to the static presence of the people who call this region their home. This book appears on a recent list of eight books recommended by László Krasznahorkai. Stasiuk's travelog through a desolate landscape in south-east Europe where people live damaged from war and totalitarian powers is a search for the essential. He finds succinct words for the human condition there which create a counterweight to what otherwise seems desperate; the same counterweight that his restlessness creates to the static presence of the people who call this region their home. This book appears on a recent list of eight books recommended by László Krasznahorkai.

  12. 4 out of 5

    két con

    The work wanders the byways to the villages of the provincial, peripheral Eastern Europe region, giving the true experience of going there. An ode to “non-obvious lands, Stasiuk studiously avoided the great cities of Europe’s forgotten corner – Warsaw, Kiev, Belgrade, or Tirana. Stasiuk is fascinated by legends and fables – the relationship between imagination and place than in plotting sequential events – than by history. And by the writers who helped to reinvent or subvert their national mytho The work wanders the byways to the villages of the provincial, peripheral Eastern Europe region, giving the true experience of going there. An ode to “non-obvious lands, Stasiuk studiously avoided the great cities of Europe’s forgotten corner – Warsaw, Kiev, Belgrade, or Tirana. Stasiuk is fascinated by legends and fables – the relationship between imagination and place than in plotting sequential events – than by history. And by the writers who helped to reinvent or subvert their national mythologies. In Hungary, he refers to contemporary writers such as Ádám Bodor and Péter Esterházy, and to the 19th-century national poet Sándor Petöfi. In Slovenia, it's the poet Edvard Kocbek; in Romania, the anti-philosophy philosopher, EM Cioran. fantastical and unreal as Italo Calvino’s fabulist travel fiction "Invisible Cities", as lyrically meditative as Joseph Brodsky’s memoir of Venetian winter "Watermark", and nearly as eccentric in its descriptive details as Bruno Schulz’s "The Street of Crocodiles", the book won Poland's main literary prize, the Nike. Với những ai hứng thú tìm hiểu về vùng Đông Âu ma mị, hoang tàn thì quyển này là kinh điển.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    In this postmodern travel book, the author ruts around eastern Europe, divvying out impressions of this and that in prose that is sometimes lyrical, but almost always opaque. I never could figure out what the point of this book was. There was no cohesion to it, and it seemed the author was on drugs most of the time. I suppose if you're a Joycean you may enjoy this, as it's stream of consciousness prose at its best. For the casual reader, however, it's like listening to a drunken old man with an In this postmodern travel book, the author ruts around eastern Europe, divvying out impressions of this and that in prose that is sometimes lyrical, but almost always opaque. I never could figure out what the point of this book was. There was no cohesion to it, and it seemed the author was on drugs most of the time. I suppose if you're a Joycean you may enjoy this, as it's stream of consciousness prose at its best. For the casual reader, however, it's like listening to a drunken old man with an addled brain recount the misadventures of his youth.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hana

    Kinga loved it for the poetry. Maybe I'll try this as a second or third read after more introductory books on the 'Other Europe'. Kinga loved it for the poetry. Maybe I'll try this as a second or third read after more introductory books on the 'Other Europe'.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Grant

    Stasiuk has captured the essence of the obscure and unknown aura of eastern and southeastern Europe quite well. Set aside from the familiar and frequently written about Western Europe locations in literature, Stasiuk politely pushes you into the rural and unknown. I too felt at times lost and I’ve lived in or visited many of these places. That said, Stasiuk’s prose is reassuring, lyrical and creates a sense of familiarity and comfort regardless if you’re lost or not. I found myself reminiscing a Stasiuk has captured the essence of the obscure and unknown aura of eastern and southeastern Europe quite well. Set aside from the familiar and frequently written about Western Europe locations in literature, Stasiuk politely pushes you into the rural and unknown. I too felt at times lost and I’ve lived in or visited many of these places. That said, Stasiuk’s prose is reassuring, lyrical and creates a sense of familiarity and comfort regardless if you’re lost or not. I found myself reminiscing about the many days I spent in the same type of cigarette filled coffee bars observing the same habits,conversations, and having the same observations he describes. A quote that sticks out is: “It is good to come to a country you know practically nothing about. Your thoughts grow still, useless. Everything must be rebuilt. In a country you know nothing about, there is no reference point. You struggle to associate colors, smells, dim memories. You live a little like a child, or animal. Objects and events may bring things to mind, but in the end they remain no more than what they are in fact. They begin only when we experience them,vanish when others follow. “ Last, no need to read front to back, rather each chapter is a good starting off point. Each chapter provides a meditation of a place far off but all the same interesting and relevant to the human condition.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lorenzo Berardi

    There are 167 stamps on Andrzej Stasiuk's passport. Or, at least, there were so many when this book was published. Probably Mr Stasiuk hit 200 stamps in the meantime. And I would be glad if he did, for each of these stamps has a story to tell and the author of "On the Road to Babadag" is the right person to do that. What you will find here is the perfect combination of the celebrated "Danube" by Claudio Magris with the Eastern Europe travels of "Michael Palin's Europe" recently televised by the B There are 167 stamps on Andrzej Stasiuk's passport. Or, at least, there were so many when this book was published. Probably Mr Stasiuk hit 200 stamps in the meantime. And I would be glad if he did, for each of these stamps has a story to tell and the author of "On the Road to Babadag" is the right person to do that. What you will find here is the perfect combination of the celebrated "Danube" by Claudio Magris with the Eastern Europe travels of "Michael Palin's Europe" recently televised by the BBC. And yet, in Michael Palin's words, Stasiuk is "less fucking pompous" than the Italian writer, while Claudio Magris would find Babadag more "Hapsburg influenced and quintessentially Central-European" than the ex-Python's travelogues. What Stasiuk managed to accomplish here is stunning. This book is an act of love for those wide lands between the Carpathian mountains and the Black Sea spanning over 5 official countries (Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Moldova) a self-proclaimed one (Transnistria) and a Gypsy stateless but very evident community. There are also a couple of detours, when Stasiuk drove through Slovenia and visited Albania but in both cases they seem linked to the road which leads to Babadag as to prove a common Eastern ground made of dilapidated bunkers, rented rooms, watermelons and beer for chasing liquor. Stasiuk managed to map a land where melancholy and initiative, bribing and altruism, alcoholics and essayist come with hands clasped sometimes being the right and back of the same hand. A land which is crisscrossed by solemn rivers, bumpy roads and where half-dismantled borders pop up in the corn fields. There where the likes of Emil Cioran and Danilo Kiš were born. What the author seeks for are places where time is "just a piece of eternity you cut out for your own consumption". As Stasiuk puts it, the heart of his Europe doesn't beat in Vienna, or Budapest, or Krakow. And this heartbeat cannot be found even in Ljubljana, Chisinau or Bratislava, but it rather pulses in Husi, Sulina, Szolnok. Or Dukla. Or Babadag. Only driving to and through this immemorial and yet vaguely known cut-out Europe avoiding any large town on his sight, Andrzej Stasiuk can find what he is looking for. "On the Road to Babadag" is the written proof of a world that will always be torn apart and yet somehow cohesive, with ferries travelling back and forth the Danube banks or connecting Constanța with Istanbul. I went aboard and let the time flow. For my own delighted consumption.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Hmm... hard to rate this book. Stasiuk is a master of words, has a fluency which I rarely encountered in a descriptive story. Even if his journeys took place in a specific time frame, you get the feeling that all those countries, cities, villages, people are suspended somewhere out of time and reality. As he said in an interview: "If I go somewhere, I am always drunk. Afterwards I remember too little, sometimes I take pictures. This is why, three quarters from what I write is made up. I make up l Hmm... hard to rate this book. Stasiuk is a master of words, has a fluency which I rarely encountered in a descriptive story. Even if his journeys took place in a specific time frame, you get the feeling that all those countries, cities, villages, people are suspended somewhere out of time and reality. As he said in an interview: "If I go somewhere, I am always drunk. Afterwards I remember too little, sometimes I take pictures. This is why, three quarters from what I write is made up. I make up landscapes, people, their feelings"(pg. 12). And he does it so well. But, and that is what I didn't like, his entire universe lacks vivid colours: everything is grey, black and brown and that gives the book a considerably depressive touch (even he admits that he is "drawn to decline and decay" - http://culture.pl/en/artist/andrzej-s...). If it's on your to-read-next list, at least choose a sunny to day to start it ;)

  18. 4 out of 5

    John

    The travel essay parts are quite interesting, but the ... ummm ... reflective parts not so much. Lots and lots of obscure eastern European place names thrown at the reader, making it difficult to tell what country he was talking about, and I'm fairly good at geography! Recommended only for those with a very strong interest in eastern Europe, otherwise this one may well end up on your Did Not Finish pile; I managed to get the end, but there was effort involved at times. The travel essay parts are quite interesting, but the ... ummm ... reflective parts not so much. Lots and lots of obscure eastern European place names thrown at the reader, making it difficult to tell what country he was talking about, and I'm fairly good at geography! Recommended only for those with a very strong interest in eastern Europe, otherwise this one may well end up on your Did Not Finish pile; I managed to get the end, but there was effort involved at times.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Stasiuk has done his homework. Apparently he noted most details along the way. Or he is very good at improvising a credible image. He has also worked to get some trivia on the places and people along the way. The result is still barely readable. A diligent pupil doing his homework.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stirnaite

    *In any case we passed it in no time, and once again green mountains rose on the horizon, and I immediately felt regret and longing. Exactly as on awakening, when we are spurred by the desire to return to the world of dreams, which relieves us of our freedom of will and gives in its place the freedom, absolute, of the unexpected. This happens in places rarely touched by the traveller's eye. Observation irons out objects and landscapes. Destruction and decline follow. The world gets used up, like *In any case we passed it in no time, and once again green mountains rose on the horizon, and I immediately felt regret and longing. Exactly as on awakening, when we are spurred by the desire to return to the world of dreams, which relieves us of our freedom of will and gives in its place the freedom, absolute, of the unexpected. This happens in places rarely touched by the traveller's eye. Observation irons out objects and landscapes. Destruction and decline follow. The world gets used up, like an old abraded map, from being seen too much. *It was one of those places where you feel the need to stay but have no reason to. *What happened on the street of Gönc was more interesting than what had become mere history. It drew us, because life is made of bits of the present that stay in the mind. The world itself, really, is made of that. *The general impression that everyone is playing at being something other, each according to a private notion of a world not here. *Whenever the time of year or the weather changes, I have to pack up whatever I cant do without and visit all those places Ive been before, to make sure they still exist. *We were seeking a place to sleep, but this town had insomnia. *I understood the pub frenzy. It was simply a sign of existence. People met in this poor light, drawn like moths, to see if they lived. *It's possible that everything I've written so far began with this photograph <...> The space of this photograph hypnotizes me, and all my travelling has had only one purpose: to find, at long last, the secret passage into its interior. *Once people asked an old Gypsy why Gypsies didnt have their own country.'If a country was a good thing, the Gypsies too would have one, for sure,' was his answer. *Babadag: twice in my life, twice for ten minutes. *I love this Balkan shambles, Hungarian, Slovak, Polish, the amazing weight of things, the lovely slumber, the facts that make no difference, the calm and methodical drunkeness in the middle of the day, and those misty eyes that with no effort pierce reality and with no fear open to the void. I cant help it. The heart of my Europe beats in Sokolow Podlaski and in Husi. It does not beat in Vienna. Or in Budapest. And most definitely not in Krakow. *I have the same problem: I remember things and events but do not know what separates or connects them other than my accidental presence. *The light knows no pity. *Sometimes I imagine a map composed only of the places Id like to see once more.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    Reading the densely detailed travelogue ON THE ROAD TO BABADAG: TRAVELS IN THE OTHER EUROPE by Andrzej Stasiuk reminded me of science fiction. It’s exotic and strange as another planet, but those alien landscapes are imagined by earthbound men who project to the stars. Most every space creature shares our basic biology and the climate and topography of those distant lands reflects the deserts or tropics or metropolises that we know. If we were to see something truly unfamiliar we wouldn’t recogn Reading the densely detailed travelogue ON THE ROAD TO BABADAG: TRAVELS IN THE OTHER EUROPE by Andrzej Stasiuk reminded me of science fiction. It’s exotic and strange as another planet, but those alien landscapes are imagined by earthbound men who project to the stars. Most every space creature shares our basic biology and the climate and topography of those distant lands reflects the deserts or tropics or metropolises that we know. If we were to see something truly unfamiliar we wouldn’t recognize it. There could be other lifeforms among us right now, here, and we’re ignorant of their existence because their existence is so foreign to our own it would be impossible to recognize. Stasiuk makes me feel as if I’ve left the planet because he treks roads that lead to places in Central and Eastern Europe that are not on the average tourist map. These are nations where my ancestors lived and left behind, and now they don’t even reside in my memory. Stasiuk, a Polish writer, is only a hop, skip and jump from the sites he writes about, though to me their names may as well be those of the stars, for I know the letters that make them up, but not the consonant-heavy combination in which they’re applied. His short physical journeys are really deep explorations of memory. Constantly, he is witness to lifestyles that seem ageless and at the same time on the edge of extinction. He chases a fiddler from old photographs, looks for clues in the local currencies, drinks regional elixirs, ruminates on historical figures, talks to tavern dwellers and farmers and children begging for aluminum coins. This is the best travel writing, not a practical primer for luxurious stays in fine hotels, dining in starred restaurants and shopping excursions, but an archeological dig into the soil of the people that unearths the uniqueness of the place, and yet shines a light on the similarities that connect gypsies and yuppies. We’re all wandering souls tied to our memories of the land from which we came, and that’s always under our feet no matter where we are. It’s exceptional and bizarre as the mysteries of space, because out there is really in here.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kai Weber

    This is not a travel memoir in the traditional sense, as the reader can hardly learn anything about the Central European area that the author has traveled and writes about here: The area where the borders of Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania meet. (With two excursions a bit further south, to Slovenia and Albania respectively.) It is however a book about traveling and memory, a reflections on the conditions of restlessness and forgetfulness. Stasiuk really doesn't describe anything This is not a travel memoir in the traditional sense, as the reader can hardly learn anything about the Central European area that the author has traveled and writes about here: The area where the borders of Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania meet. (With two excursions a bit further south, to Slovenia and Albania respectively.) It is however a book about traveling and memory, a reflections on the conditions of restlessness and forgetfulness. Stasiuk really doesn't describe anything that a traditional travel writer would describe. He often gives a very general picture (e.g. about the emptiness of a landscape), and sometimes elaborates on details (e.g. when observing nomadic gypsies along the road). He also lists names of places he went through in a compulsive and tedious manner. If you are a person like me who likes to check out places on maps, you will possibly enjoy this; yet I imagine to a person who doesn't care about geography, the listing of place names might seem pointless. The book and its reflections have some charms, especially when reflecting the human condition on the road, yet it lacks overall composition, so it also feels a bit pointless. This is not a criticism, though, as it corresponds with the content of the book, the small Central European countries mentioned above. At one point, Stasiuk alludes to the larger European countries by calling these "countries taken for granted" and juxtaposes them with those that are not granted: "Es ist gut, in nicht selbstverständlichen Ländern zu leben, denn ihre Grenzen umschließen mehr Raum, als die Geographie suggeriert. Das sind die Abgründe des Unbekannten, das sind die unendlichen Weiten der Vermutungen, der fliehende Horizont der Vorstellungen und die Fata Morgana süßer Vorurteile, die von der Wirklichkeit nie widerlegt werden." ("It is good not to live in countries taken for granted, because their borders enclose more space than their geography suggests. Such are the abysses of the unknown, such are the infinite distances of assumption, the fleeing horizon of imaginations and the fata morgana of sweet prejudices that are never refuted by reality.")

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen (itpdx)

    This is a treasure--impressionistic, haunting journeys in the land between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas-Slovakia, Moldavo, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary--towns with names in three languages or more--mountains, plains and corn fields--pubs, border crossings, buses, trains and ferries. Stasiuk seeks the edges, the eternal of his Europe. "It gives me no rest, my wish to know the fate of all these scenes that entered my eyes and have remained in my thoughts. What happens to th This is a treasure--impressionistic, haunting journeys in the land between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas-Slovakia, Moldavo, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary--towns with names in three languages or more--mountains, plains and corn fields--pubs, border crossings, buses, trains and ferries. Stasiuk seeks the edges, the eternal of his Europe. "It gives me no rest, my wish to know the fate of all these scenes that entered my eyes and have remained in my thoughts. What happens to them when I am no longer there?" Beautiful! but read with the internet at hand for this westerner that grew up with area behind the "iron curtain" and mostly ignorant of its geography, history and culture.

  24. 4 out of 5

    know1

    My favorite travel memoir. Central and Southeastern Europe, wine, cigarettes, dust, train stations, old trucks, forgotten history and the soul of the writer beautifully woven together in an impressionistic narrative.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mateusz Buczko

    This book was my trusty friend on the long hours I spent on buses, planes & at airports throughout my recent trip. It even inspired some of my more random posts, e.g. the border crossing 'short story' & the ode to a bus station hot dog. . Although this is a translation, Andrzej Stasiuk has a masterful way with words. I've read a lot of books & was nevertheless seriously impressed by how he's able to convey in words the sort of moments, feelings, vibes that often seem too fleeting, ethereal, 'in on This book was my trusty friend on the long hours I spent on buses, planes & at airports throughout my recent trip. It even inspired some of my more random posts, e.g. the border crossing 'short story' & the ode to a bus station hot dog. . Although this is a translation, Andrzej Stasiuk has a masterful way with words. I've read a lot of books & was nevertheless seriously impressed by how he's able to convey in words the sort of moments, feelings, vibes that often seem too fleeting, ethereal, 'in one's own head' to do so. . Polish himself, he's a man obsessed with 'the other Europe'. Early on you understand this means a geographical area spanning central Europe to the Balkans, what geopolitically used to be referred to as the Second World... But when, at certain points, he mentions that he dislikes being in Budapest & Kraków - surely 2 of the most beautiful cities in that 'other Europe' - you realise that specifically what he's savouring is 'backstage Europe'... The idyllic-yet-crumbling villages that modernity & globalisation have not yet reached; stark & rugged landscapes where the ravages of war & neglect of decades of dictatorship are still manifest; towns & ports & transit points that bustle & heave with smells & sounds & sensibilities altogether unlike the Europe you'd find in a Flight Centre brochure with a sun-splashed Eiffel Tower on the cover. . With a particular penchant for regional Hungary, Romania & Albania, Stasiuk is a man who loves to lose himself (literally as well as figuratively) in the gritty, the organic, the mysterious, the forgotten, the off-the-beaten-track. He's in his literary element when things are broken, backwards or chaotic, not to say that he always ENJOYS these circumstances but appreciates how they colour his trip & reveal to him raw, random humanity in a way that tree-lined boulevards & sign-posted attractions do not. . His ruminations do get a bit rambly towards the end, as he seems to abandon any kind of travel narrative altogether & just waxes lyrical for page after page, but his authenticity, skill & unique outlook as a writer shine through to the last. A perfect accompaniment if you ever venture to the other Europe yourself.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Totochelamouche

    Any place with a population over 100,000, I cross it off my list: Go ahead, build in the hope that someday it will completely block the view of where you come from. Sleep in this place, apparently, took as much effort as getting through the day. I would have loved to sit at the wooden table until my soul sank out of notice, until my limbs became immersed in this strange soup of dawn and dusk. It is possible that my perverse love for the periphery, for the provincial, for everything that passes, f Any place with a population over 100,000, I cross it off my list: Go ahead, build in the hope that someday it will completely block the view of where you come from. Sleep in this place, apparently, took as much effort as getting through the day. I would have loved to sit at the wooden table until my soul sank out of notice, until my limbs became immersed in this strange soup of dawn and dusk. It is possible that my perverse love for the periphery, for the provincial, for everything that passes, fades, and falls apart had found peace at last in Sfântu Gheorghe. I could sit here for years and grow comfortable with death. My first time here, yet I felt I knew this city. It was alive, charming. It gave the impression that it was exactly where it ought to be, not thinking about its destiny, not asking itself hard questions. Quite possibly it was utterly indifferent to, did not pine one bit for, the rest of the world. Communism, after all, had been the fruit of long, hopeless winters, when people began to go mad from boredom and from the fear of the self. It made sense, if it made sense at all, only on a flat, featureless plain where nothing happened and therefore anything could happen. It is good to come to a country you know practically nothing about. Your thoughts grow still, useless. Everything must be rebuilt. In a country you know nothing about, there is no reference point. You struggle to associate colors, smells, dim memories. You live a little like a child, or an animal. Objects and events may bring things to mind, but in the end they remain no more than what they are in fact. They begin only when we experience them, vanish when others follow. So they truly have no significance. They are made of that primal substance that touches our senses but is too light, too evanescent, to teach us anything. Whatever is to come never gets here; it gets used up en route, flickers out like the light from a lantern too far away. A perpetual decline reigns here, and children are born exhausted. Travel is no more than a relatively healthy form of narcotic, after all. I stood in that preternatural silence [...] and thought that all mornings of the world should be like this: we wake in absolute peace, in a foreign city that has no people in it, and everything around us is a continuation of sleep. In Gönc he pulled up in front of the Hussite House, but we were less interested in museums, more in the old women sitting in front of the houses on the main street. Like lizards in the sun. Their black clothes stored the afternoon heat, and their eyes gazed on the world without motion and without surprise, because they had seen everything. The women sat in groups of three, four, and in utter silence observed the passage of time. It was one of those places where you feel the need to stay but have no reason to. Sirens howled, horns honked, the glare of the city doubled, tripled, and we were ghosts now, having lost confidence in our existence. History, deeds, consequences, ideas, and plans dissolve into the landscape, into something considerably older and vaster than all the striving. I have to invent, because days cannot sink into a past filled only with landscape, with inert, unchanging matter that finally shakes us from our corporeality, brushes off and away all these little incidents, faces, existences that last no longer than a glimpse. Nothing is as it first appears; splinters of meaning lurk everywhere, and your mind catches on them like pants on barbed wire. It's strange finding yourself in a foreign land whe the only scenery is the dark. But I would like to be there on December 14, with no plan in mind, because the future has not been of concern to me for a long time now and I am drawn increasingly to places that tell of a beginning or else where sadness has the power of fate. People didn't make unnecessary things; they wasted neither fire nor food. Perhaps we become aware of our existence only when we feel on our skin the touch of a place that has no name, that connects us to the earliest time, to all the dead, to prehistory, when the mind first stood apart from the world, still unaware that it was orphaned. Exactly as on awakening, when we are spurred by the desire to return to the world of dreams, which relieves us of our freedom of will and gives in its place the freedom, absolute of the unexpected. Not the homes of others, not ancient homes, homes inherited, but their very own. Like children's drawings, so simple, small, and fragile. Like ideas only just forming. Fashioned of barely stripped pine logs, more poles than logs, not thicker than a man's arm, and with gable roofs all tarred. They were so modest, the most you could do in them was sit and wait as time elapsed between one event and the next. "Infested with lice and placid, we should seek the company of animals, squat beside them for a thousand years, breathe the air of the stable not the laboratory, die from disease not medicine, keep within the borders of our wild and sink mildly into it."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marina Sofia

    Not a travelogue as such. Not enough description - it is too poetic, too lyrical and philosophical, mixing impressions, atmosphere, history, literary references. It is a very personal journey across a troubled part of Europe which has experienced huge changes over the past century or so. One to dip into now and again, rather than to read from end-to-end. Perhaps also most meaningful to those who have lived in that part of the world.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fran

    Reading this, I felt I had entered Stasiuk's dream. A long one, curving and dense. I kept referring to the map near the front of the book but often found myself in places off the map. I appreciate his tribute to another Europe, one far less travelled and also rich with history and atmosphere, if not castles and chock full museums. Reading this, I felt I had entered Stasiuk's dream. A long one, curving and dense. I kept referring to the map near the front of the book but often found myself in places off the map. I appreciate his tribute to another Europe, one far less travelled and also rich with history and atmosphere, if not castles and chock full museums.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrii

    The hero is traveling through Eastern Europe after capitalism has cam there and socialistic system is dead, butits corps is still there. Very symbolic, but was rather boring for me. Better try to decide for yourself.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lucy Wilson

    This book is possibly the most infuriating thing I have read this year. It would be great as a much shorter book and is written in prose - which is not apparent anywhere on the blurb. I'm sure the places that the author visited were interesting.. but they were so drowned in poetic dribble it was difficult to even tell what country he was visiting. The book reads like an unedited fever dream. This book is possibly the most infuriating thing I have read this year. It would be great as a much shorter book and is written in prose - which is not apparent anywhere on the blurb. I'm sure the places that the author visited were interesting.. but they were so drowned in poetic dribble it was difficult to even tell what country he was visiting. The book reads like an unedited fever dream.

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