Book suggestions gratefully received.
September 23, 2008 4:55 AM   Subscribe

ReadmeFilter: Desperately in need of suggestions for books for upcoming Europe trip.

I'm looking for two types of reading matter:

1) Something easy to read, absorbing and appealling to a range of people. This is plane and train reading and will be subsequently read by one or both my parents. (so please, SFW) An example of an author we've all enjoyed was Bill Bryson.

2) Something set in Poland, Czech republic or Eastern Germany. I'd like to get intriged about the countries I'm visiting, gain a bit of insight into the culture or history through it's literature. I've got some short stories by Kafka already, but I'm also looking for something more based on real life.

Fiction or non-fiction, but easily found in Australia is a must.
posted by kjs4 to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks is a humourous travelogue set in a former Eastern Bloc country.
posted by the latin mouse at 5:12 AM on September 23, 2008

Too Many Men by Lily Brett, an Australian author who is the daughter of Polish holocaust survivors. The novel is semi-autobiographical, about a woman who travels to Poland with her father to better understand him and her life - sounds very serious (and is, in parts) but is also full of surrealism and humour.
posted by goo at 5:46 AM on September 23, 2008

Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder. Based on a series of interviews, it describes life under the Stasi form the view point of those who worked for them, and those who opposed them. It's not the lightest of subject matters but its a very readable and absorbing book.
posted by tallus at 5:57 AM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera for the Czech Republic. The File by Timothy Garton Ash for East Germany (I know, I forgot Poland).
posted by hazyjane at 6:00 AM on September 23, 2008

You don't mention this specifically, but Bill Bryson traveled has a Europe book: Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe. One of my favorites. I can't remember if he travels through those countries specifically, but a good read nonetheless.
posted by nitsuj at 6:35 AM on September 23, 2008

posted by nitsuj at 6:38 AM on September 23, 2008

Stasiland by Anna Funder.

Non fiction analysis on the Stasi (the secret police of the GDR) and those who were their victims. This book is eminently readable and has won many many awards.
posted by Mephisto at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2008

Opps... just noticed that tallus recommended Stasiland already.
posted by Mephisto at 8:32 AM on September 23, 2008

How about Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed The World by David Maraniss? I am currently about half way through it and I'm finding it absorbing and interesting, with great Olympic action (Maraniss is a wonderful sports writer). Unfortunately it isn't set it in the countries you specified, but the chapter I just finished reading just last night was about a woman diver from East Germany (the "Dresden Doll") and talked about how the politics of the time affected the German unified Olympic team. I think it would be great train reading, and definitely parental appropriate.
posted by warble at 9:07 AM on September 23, 2008

One of the most absorbing novels I read last year was Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, which is initially set in Poland before jaunting all over Germany--it's an immensely helpful resource in understanding the mentality of post-WWII Germany. Grass has become an increasingly controversial mouthpiece for his nation's complicity in Nazism (especially after he revealed his secret past as a Waffen-SS soldier) but Tin Drum was one of the first post-WWII books to grapple with Germany's inheritance of national guilt and responsibility. It's also a wonderful way to pass traveling time.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:11 AM on September 23, 2008

Is film out of the question? Kieslowski's Decalogue is a ten-part miniseries set entirely in his native Poland. It's a must-see masterpiece for film buffs, who pontificate endlessly over the contemporary Ten Commandments theme, but it's also a detailed portrait of the Polish middle-class.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:21 AM on September 23, 2008

Bohumil Hrabal is an underrated Czech author who captures his nation's defeatist black humorquite nicely: I Served the King of England was just made into a movie, but my favorite is Too Loud a Solitude, which is written from the point of a view of an illiterate book shredder who's witnessed 35 years of Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. He's like Kundera but without the spoon-fed pseudo-philosophies.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:27 AM on September 23, 2008

Myla Goldberg's Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague is pretty self-explanatory. I didn't enjoy the meandering plotlessness, and since I lived in Prague I wasn't keen on rereading impressions of the city, but it's probably pretty useful if you're just gearing up to visit.

In addition to Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is funny, dark, and life-affirming. There's some high-brow sexin' in both those novels (and basically any Kundera you pick up besides his lit crit.. and even then he probably weasels in some womanizing), so you might not want to share them with Mom and Dad.

Sorry, I'll shut up now.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:40 AM on September 23, 2008


Don't worry. It bears repeating. Stasiland was an amazing book and I hereby third the recommendation.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:45 AM on September 23, 2008

It's not about any of the countries you mention, but it does give some insight to central Europe, how about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. If I remember rightly, there were a few bits that were slightly NSFW (swearing, a bit of nudity, mentions of old people having sex?), but I passed it onto my mum. (Slightly coincidentally, I took it with me on a family trip to New Zealand).
posted by Helga-woo at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Awesome, thanks to all. I did a lightning raid on a book store this evening and picked up "Too Many Men" (I have read and liked some of Lily brett's stuff), and "Stasiland", so I think I am all set. The rest I may have to save until I get back, or I may not be able to pick up my hand luggage.
posted by kjs4 at 6:19 AM on September 24, 2008

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