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JonnyCeltics's avatar

What's a riveting read for travel through central and eastern Europe?

Asked by JonnyCeltics (2698 points ) 3 months ago

Looking for book suggestions for my travels next week—related to the land/people I’ll be in, of course, at least in some way—author, or subject matter or… I will start in Vienna and head east, likely to Hungary and Slovakia, maybe Romania or Ukraine, definitely Poland and Germany and Denmark.

I’m both fiction and non-fiction, as well as magazine journalism and essays…

Thanks, Flutherbrains.

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12 Answers

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I can’t think of anything more riveting than books on the geography, culture, and history of the places you’ll be travelling through, and then collecting local books on the same subjects as you travel. Even pamphlets from the various Turist Buros are interesting, because they often enhance with local detail what you’ve already read, and sometimes even contradict what you’ve read. My wife used to cringe at the amount of books I had with me when we traveled together. I would have to post them back home along the way. I could have saved a lot of postage and baggage if we’d had the internet in those days.

A laptop would be essential if I were travel those places today. Except for the local stuff, it would almost take care all my needs.

Locals love it when you know something of the history or culture of their environs and often open up with little-known facts and lore when they hear a knowledgeable question from a foreigner. You’re suddenly seen as an interested traveler and not just another day tourist breezing through to buy the T-shirt or the cuckoo clock souvenir just to prove you got of the bus.

Vincentt's avatar

If you have an ereader, you can create an ebook from Wikivoyage, and include information about your destinations. I always find it incredibly interesting to read about the country’s culture before I get there, while I’m there and even afterwards.

janbb's avatar

Try Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer for good fiction about a journey of discovery to Eastern Europe. Lots of humor and a farting dog as well.

gailcalled's avatar

Fiction but wonderful is the The Fortunes of War; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Mannings. The story of a group of people, starting in Bucharest in 1939 and covering all the rest of the war in eastern Europe.

”...the story of a marriage and of a war, ,,vast, teeming, and complex… the uncertainty and adventure of civilian existence under political and military siege to vibrant life. Manning’s focus is not the battlefield but the café and kitchen, the bedroom and street, the fabric of the everyday world that has been irrevocably changed by war, yet remains unchanged.

At the heart of the trilogy are newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle, who arrive in Bucharest—the so-called Paris of the East—in the fall of 1939, just weeks after the German invasion of Poland. ... Other surprises follow: Romania joins the Axis, and before long German soldiers overrun the capital. The Pringles flee south to Greece, part of a group of refugees made up of White Russians, journalists, con artists, and dignitaries…”

Made into a movie with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branaugh as the newly-weds.

gailcalled's avatar

PS. I have also the autobiographies of both my grandfathers and their early lives in 1) a little schtetl in Lithuania before the Lithuanian collaborators massacred the Jews and 2) in a little schtetl in the Ukraine before the Russian army did much the same. I found them riveting.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@gailcalled When I went through Eastern Europe, there was nothing but fictional sources to read, the real kind and the kind purported to be factual—from both the East and the West. If you wanted to know about something, you had to first gain the trust of a local. Your grandparent’s diaries must be incredibly interesting.

kritiper's avatar

Get a book on sightseeing in Europe.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Maybe Poland, by Michener (I think I spelled his name wrong) or for something really heavy August 1914, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

longgone's avatar

I liked Bill Bryson’s Neither here nor there…non-fiction, covers large parts of Europe, and his books are both amusing and interesting.

Megan64's avatar

The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Bart – Historical and magical, and f**king heart-wrenching.

Vincentt's avatar

I just came across a review that mentioned The man without qualities by Robert Musil. The review said it’s about the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the start of the first world war, starting in Vienna – I immediately thought of this question, and expect it to be very relevant to you. It’s a large book though ;-)

susanc's avatar

This is an utter no-brainer. :Between the Woods and the Water: and its companion book which I’ve forgotten the name of, by Patrick Leigh-Fermor.
It’s your trip, taken right before WWII, written beautifully. Enjoy!~

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