I have often had the feeling that, despite our common heritage and our present-day contracts, Europe as it was in spring 1914 exhibited a greater cultural unity than it does today, more than ninety years later. Then, a worker in Warsaw led more or less the same life as a worker in Brussels, and the same went for a teacher in Berlin or in Prague, a shopkeeper in Budapest or in Amsterdam.
Our common disaster can be summarised briefly. Around 1900 there was a tree and an apple, and everyone ate of it. At the heart of Europe lay a young, unstable nation that did not recognise its own destructive potential. Two hellish wars followed, and we all experienced them in our own way. After that, for the East, began four deadly decades, while for Western Europe the gates opened onto a paradise of mopeds, electric mixers, cars and televisions. Close to the end of the century, the Wall fell, but for millions of Eastern Europeans hard times arrived again, the years of humiliated men, frightened women and broken families. At the same time, the West was celebrating the boom of the 1990s, without realising what their Central and Eastern European kin were suffering. Immigrants from other cultures came and went, closed societies were broken open, there arose a new set of dynamics with new tensions. In short, we still have a great deal to tell each other and a great deal to explain, and all that has yet to begin.
Geert Mak, ‘In Europe’.
Took me a little more than a decade to finally get through a century. But what a privilege it was to have been able to travel along, with Geert Mak leading the way.
And I had long since gone on to acquire all his other works, even while I had yet to complete my journey with this tome, simply because I find his tone and style to be so readable and enjoyable, despite the heavy subject.
This was also actually one of the first few books I had bought from my very first trip to the Big Bad Wolf Books Sale, right at the very beginning, in their early days. Spotting this volume among the random titles on the table back then, was for me, an early indication as to the quality of this newcomer to the book sale scene.
And sure enough, they didn’t disappoint. 🙂
Neither did Mak.
This is a highly recommended piece of work, worthy of its weight, in every sense of the word.