The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe
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.
in his Toronto apartment. He would have turned ninety on his next birthday. Now it was spring of 2003, and I spent the evening at a bar in Bloomington with Paul Wilson, listening to tales of the Plastic People of the Universe’s legendary band manager Ivan Jirous. Paul was not at all pretentious; on the contrary, he was self-effacing—with respect to his singing, but also his understanding of the work he had translated for many years. Paul was not a philosopher; he had always struggled with
Bohumila Grögerová, an aging couple who in the past had together composed experimental verses and translated poetry from many different languages. They, too, spoke about Patočka’s funeral, about the deafening noise and the regime’s attempt to deny the service any dignity. For all of the mourners at Patočka’s funeral, the philosopher’s death marked a rupture in consciousness. Everyone still saw so vividly those helicopters and motorcycles, heard their vulgar sounds. Jan Patočka became the
Odessa. Many were shot, and many others died of disease and starvation. What the city councilman in Cluj had said was true: Antonescu did not deport Romania’s Jews to the German camps. Instead he deported them to his own camps in Transnistria. More than 700,000 Jews had lived in interwar Romania. Some 270,000 were killed during the Holocaust. By the 1990s only 10,000 or 20,000 remained. Vera was among them. During the postwar Soviet occupation of Romania, Marshal Ion Antonescu was put on trial
around her neck. Dagmara was feisty and saucy and full of anger. She hated the Israelis, who did not even want to talk to the few remaining Polish Jews they encountered on their pilgrimages to Poland. She hated as well the Israeli government, who was so dismissive toward her and her friends, who declined to acknowledge their voices. “And what are we?” she cried. “Only the guardians of gravestones?” She wanted apologies, trials, vindications. Their friend Romek rejected this. He was in favor of
pregnant then, and Władysław Bartoszewski was very happy—it was a sign that life went on. Adolf offered him a job in the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, any position he liked, but Bartoszewski politely declined. He did not want to tell Adolf Berman that he was still connected to the former Home Army, taking orders from London. In 1945 Bartoszewski was arrested. He was not detained for very long, yet the following year he was arrested again—and this time released only some eighteen months