In Europe’s Shadow

Why this Book?

I’m going to tell you a secret… I know very little about the Cold War but that wasn’t the reason I picked up this smudgy thick white history book off the library shelf. I’m kind of obsessed with Sebastian Stan at the moment. When I found out that he is from Romania, I went to check out a book on it (don’t judge) and ended up learning all kinds of things and enjoyed the book for its own sake and loving Romanian culture for its own sake.

Here’s the thing about this book: I am not really sure if the author and I would get along. I find Kaplan old and cynical, especially when I first picked up the book. I was, however, very intrigued by his totally honest and foreign voice, and I was delighted by how well he knew the country and people of East Europe. This author is like one of those professors who you like to listen to because they are so smart and bitingly honest but you hate to take tests from because they are always so mean about it. (Thank God I don’t have to take a test from this guy!) I loved reading the book because I feel like (while I didn’t learn as much as I should) I learned a lot.

What is the book like? 

With Kaplan’s voice in mind I must tell you he paints a vivid picture of Romania from World War II to the present. Names and dates often blurred in my mind, he knew them all so well but for me it was like meeting too many people at a party. What I can remember is the clearly depicted travel scenes he gave from his own journey and the personalities and culture of the people he met. (And my hope is that next time I meet these people in books I am able to remember them because now I have a reference point.)

The experience of looking at the desolate communist tortured country through his eyes helped make history real. He describes a people worn down from hardship with a culture all but washed out by communism. However, even as he washes out the colors of culture and paints a cold bleak black and white picture of the the pain Romania has been through, he loves to reminisce about the beauty of the past and hint at the possibility of better times. “The communists destroyed the landscape, but deep down they destroyed nothing. It is only a matter of recovering the tradition. Tradition and modernity cannot exist one without the other. You can only rebuild the past.” While he seems to think the newer Romanian culture is a bit fake and forced its not all negative. The vibrant picture he paints of the Latin West merging into the Oriental Byzantine East in Romania fascinated me. He compares it to the Italian city of Ravenna which made me want to visit. “Romania is a fusion of Roman Latinity and Greek Orthodox Christianity, so that ancient Rome and Greece live on, however vaguely and indirectly inside the Romanian soul.”

A Couple of More Quotes that Intrigued Me…

“How distinct the colors were! We think of the past in Black-and-White because of the state of photography at the time. But the past before the ages of smokestacks economies was even richer in primary colors than the world today.”

“The ultimate purpose of human existence is to appreciate beauty, and beauty requires a spiritual element-an imitation of another world.”




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