Goodbye, Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land

Pantheon. Jul. 2023. 400p. ISBN 9781524748500. $30. HIST
This phenomenal debut from journalist and historian Mikanowski is partly a nostalgic attempt to preserve the culture of a disappearing region and partly a boisterous defense of its legacy. The author argues that Eastern Europe should be understood less as a fragmented borderland and more as a place uniquely defined by its distinctiveness. From the surprisingly late emergence—around the year 1000 AD—of written history in Eastern Europe, a dizzying array of religious, ethnic, and political shifts have characterized life there. Mikanowski’s text is divided into sections that focus on religion, the region’s inhabitants, the empires that conquered it, and the 20th century, but the narrative is united through an emphasis on traditional stories, beliefs, and experiences. As a result, this yields a history of people, rather than a bird’s-eye view of events. Stories from the author’s family enrich an extensive archive of primary sources.
VERDICT Combined with the author’s gripping style, his sources make this an informative, deeply engaging take on an ever-shifting region. With Eastern Europe’s traditional nations regrouping into Scandinavia, Central Europe, and Eastern Adriatic, this timely book will appeal to readers seeking a fresh take on European history.
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