Winner of the 2011 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing.
One of the country's most distinguished writers and publishers returns to her roots to explore the consequences of democracy in the former Hapsburg lands.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall was dismantled. Communism gave way to democracy. Since that time the former borderlands of the long defunct Hapsburg Empire and the more recently dispersed Soviet Empire have been trying to invent their own versions of democracy and market-driven economics. But these experiments have led to a widening gap between rich and poor. The worldwide economic crisis has severely tested Central Europe's determination to live peaceably, and there are many disquieting signs of old hatreds and racial tensions returning.
Author Anna Porter travels through the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to speak with leading intellectuals, politicians, former dissidents and the champions of aggrieved memories. She interviews great figures of the revolution (Václav Havel, Adam Michnik, George Konrád) and its new custodians, among them Radek Sikorski and Ferenc Gyurcsány, and also examines the younger generation with little or no experience of Communism and no interest in its aftermath. She visits Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, Prague's Jewish Museum and Hungary's House of Terror, each an attempt to reckon with dark episodes of history.
The Ghosts of Europe is an exploration of power, nationalism, racism and denial in nations with a tumultuous history and an uncertain future.
"An ambitious, disturbing, darkly fascinating amalgam of history and documentary about the peoples of Central Europe...Porter conceived of The Ghosts of Europe as more than a collection of interviews. She provides context by layering in the region’s blood-soaked history, documenting these former Habsburg lands as they shed their totalitarian skins."
"Anticipating the 20th anniversary of the 1989 revolution, Anna Porter felt empowered to visit four of the liberated countries --Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and her native Hungary -- to see and hear for herself what had happened. It turned out to be both a hectic and sometimes painful learning experience, and The Ghosts of Europe will make any thoughtful reader a lot wiser in the world."
"Anna Porter is the modern version of a Renaissance explorer. She views old lands with a fresh eye and sends back essential dispatches about new worlds. A must read."
"One couldn’t ask for a more well-connected tour guide. Porter deftly lays out the tumultuous history of these countries, interweaving it with a series of recent personal conversations with such storied members of the resistance as Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik and their former Communist overlords and a range of politicians, businessmen, intellectuals and archivists...Highly readable and enormously informative, this is a book that will make your head spin."
"In Anna Porter, we are in the presence not only of a journalist on a personal odyssey back to her own origins in Communist Hungary, but of a gifted storyteller who shapes a historically consequential narrative."
"With each country she visits, Porter offers a succinct, highly readable, contemporary history, interspersed with interviews with influential national figures regarding past, present and future...The prime virtue of the book may be its ability to deal with moral conundrums without a display of moral indignation -- indeed, with the recognition that nearly everybody has a reason for doing what he or she has done."
"The Ghosts of Europe is essential reading for anyone who cares about Central Europe’s past and its impact on the present. This book is in Anna Porter’s bloodstream and she writes with passion and conviction...Every page brims with information and first-hand knowledge."
"The Ghosts of Europe, is a fascinating commentary on the politics, history and culture of a part of Europe that for half of the last century lay mysteriously behind the Iron Curtain."
"The theme of retrospect and prospect runs through Anna Porter's intriguing and accessible narrative of contemporary central Europe. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Porter set out to explore the changing political and cultural landscapes at the heart of Europe's latest transformations, in Poland and Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia...The portrait she paints is important and true."
"The Ghosts of Europe, is a fascinating commentary on the politics, history and culture of a part of Europe that for half of the last century lay mysteriously behind the Iron Curtain...Porter is a superb companion on this fraught, fascinating and sometimes disturbing journey, and she writes with intelligence, [and] dispassion."
“Intimate and insightful: an exile’s poignant return home, an accomplished journalist’s shrewd analysis.”
"The Ghosts of Europe...[knits] up the threads of the present with the turbulent past...creating a complex tapestry of light and shadow that provides no easy answers...Focusing on the past century, Porter covers a dense landscape of loss, grievance, revenge and barely submerged guilt that echoes to the present day, raising troubling moral questions."