Scott Alexander Young
Illustrations by Moreno Chistè
The Devil Is
a Black Dog
Stories from the
Middle East and Beyond
"A master class in how to tell a war story."
Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region
that Shaped Our World
and Still Does
"A valuable contribution to a field that needs a well researched and engaging introduction. . . . A joy to read, while providing enough material for the average to excellent student to get a working grasp on the history of the region."
Sweet Briar College
"Compact, inclusive, and accessible, this book is an enjoyable and thorough account of the Eastern European past. In contrast with historical narratives that insist on gravely recounting the past as a succession of sorrows, where audiences are bid to suffer alongside the victims of history, Tomek Jankowski's Eastern Europe! gives a refreshing view of the region's history using a more fully human embrace of the comedic, serving to personalize these histories."
Seattle Central Community College
When the legendary Romulus killed his brother Remus and founded the city of Rome in 753 BCE, Plovdiv—today the second-largest city in Bulgaria—was already thousands of years old. Indeed, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, Brussels, Amsterdam are all are mere infants compared to Plovdiv. This is just one of the paradoxes that haunts and defines the New Europe, that part of Europe that was freed from Soviet bondage in 1989, and which is at once both much older than the modern Atlantic-facing power centers of Western Europe while also being in some ways much younger than them. Eastern Europe!: Everything You Need to Know About the History (and More) of a Region that Shaped Our World and Still Does is a concise (but informative) introduction to Eastern Europe and its myriad customs and history.
Even those knowledgeable about Western Europe often see Eastern Europe as terra incognito, with a sign on the border declaring "Here be monsters." Tomek Jankowski's book is a gateway to understanding both what unites and separates Eastern Europeans from their Western brethren, and how this vital region has been shaped by but has also left its mark on Western Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. It is a reader-friendly guide to a region that is all too often mischaracterized as remote, insular, and superstitious.
The book comprises three parts, the first of which describes the modern linguistic, geographical and religious contours of Eastern Europe. The second delves into the region's history, from the earliest origins of Europe up to the collapse of the Soviet realm in Eastern Europe. The historical chapters are interpolated by special inserts, usually a page or two long each, on special topics of interest. The third part presents geographical name references—many of Eastern Europe's cities, rivers, or regions have different names—along with an "Eastern Europe by Numbers" section that provides a series of charts describing the populations, politics, and economies of the region today. Throughout the book are boxed-off anecdotes describing compelling aspects of Eastern European history or culture.
About the Author
Tomek Jankowski—who grew up in a Polish family in Buffalo, New York—worked, studied, and traveled in Poland, Hungary, and other regions of Eastern Europe from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. He gained a functional literacy in Polish, Hungarian, Russian, and German, while also studying other Slavic languages. Jankowski holds a degree in history from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Since the late 1990s he has held positions in the business sector ranging from bond analysis to data research. Currently he is a senior analyst at a research firm that specializes in producing market analysis for the management consulting world--a capacity that has seen him author numerous reports focusing on Eastern Europe--as well as the financial services industry. He lives in Londonderry, New Hampshire.
at Bay in the
M. Henderson Ellis
A brilliant and darkly comic novel about globalism, coffee, and pills
1. There is a long history of American expatriate novels, from The Sun Also Rises to The Talented Mr. Ripley. How does Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café continue or diverge from this tradition? How is the experience of John Shirting in postcommunist Prague both similar to and different than that of Hemingway’s Jake Barnes in post–World War I Paris and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley in Italy? As regards mind-altering substances consumed—in the case of John Shirting: pills, cappuccino, and beer—as well as protagonists’ past traumas, repressed sexuality, and consequent interaction with (and isolation from) others?
2. At the time the novel takes place, in the early 1990s, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) was adopting many aspects of American consumer culture. Does John Shirting represent the best and worst of globalism, and how so?
3. Shirting comes up against Magda, a young Czech swindler. How is his ideology of customer service and capitalism different from her apartment turning scam? How is it different from that of Mizen, who is also American?
4. Shirting is constantly reaching in his pocket for his pills. The author never states exactly what these pills are. What are they and why do they remain nameless?
5. Chicagoland, where Shirting is from, represents not only the Capo Coffee chain and Shirting’s almost mythical grandfather but also Jerry Kodadek, mentor to Shirting and other “Frogger boys,” and convicted pedophile—whose ghost in fact once appears to Shirting on a tram in Prague. Is Shirting’s memory of this strange, sinister figure repressed in some measure? To what extent might it help explain his experiences in Prague—including his first, weird and comical visit to Monika, the prostitute?
6. There is a theme of nostalgia that runs through the novel, yet the setting is in a society in quick transition. The old and the new are often set side by side in the book. Why is this so prominent a motif throughout?
7. There are many hallucinatory aspects to the novel. Are these all in John Shirting’s mind? How much of the novel is just a projection of the protagonist’s delicate psychology?
8. The narrative, and much of John Shirting’s dialogue, is characterized by often meticulously crafted language that suggests (with no little humor) that all is not well in the protagonist’s mind. Does this serve to satirize self-consciously sophisticated young American expats who use the English language with panache but who in some cases (e.g., Shirting) can't be bothered to learn the local language? What might it suggest about Shirting’s social isolation, his difficulty in communicating with his fellow human beings? Is he hiding behind his words?
9. From Kafka to Kundera, Prague has long been one of Europe’s most iconic literary settings. Discuss the relationship between the physical Prague—its buildings, bridges, and squares—and the “Prague of the mind, a pure Prague” as put by Shirting and as experienced by him and others in this novel. Which Prague do you imagine in reading Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café? Both? Did your own travels in Prague or prior reading about the city enrich your experience of Prague in Ellis’s novel?
10. Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café can fairly be termed a dark comedy. Comment on why this is so—on way in which the novel is on the one hand comic (who or what is the target of the humor?), and on the unsettling forces at work that serve as an ever-present reminder that something quite serious is at stake.
11. The novel ends on a positive note. Is Shirting over his particular set of problems?
Translated from the Hungarian by Inez Kemenes