In light of Russia's aggressive 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Goodbye, Eastern Europe is a crucial, elucidative read, a sweeping epic chronicling a thousand years of strife, war, and bloodshed, from pre-Christianity to the fall of Communism—illuminating the remarkable cultural significance and richness of a place perpetually lost to the margins of history.
"Eastern Europe" has gone out of fashion since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ask someone today, and they might tell you that Estonia is in the Baltics or Scandinavia, that Slovakia is in Central Europe, and that Croatia is in the eastern Adriatic or the Balkans. In fact, Eastern Europe is a place that barely exists at all, except in cultural memory. Yet it remains a powerful marker of identity for many, with a fragmented and wide-ranging history defined by texts, myths, and memories of centuries of hardship and suffering.
Goodbye, Eastern Europe is a masterful narrative about a place that has survived being forgotten. Beginning with long-lost accounts of early pagan life, Mikanowski offers a kaleidoscopic tour of the various peoples who made Eastern Europe their home over the centuries, including the Roma, Jews, and Muslims; the great kingdoms of the medieval period; the rise and fall of the Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian empires; the dawn of the modern era; the ravages of fascism and Communism; the birth of the modern nation-state and beyond.
A student of literature, history, and the ghosts of his own family’s past, Mikanowski paints a magisterial portrait of a place united by diversity and eclecticism, and of people with the shared story of being the dominated rather than the dominating. The result is a loving and ebullient celebration of the distinctive and vibrant cultures that stubbornly persisted at the margins of Western Europe and Russia, and a powerful corrective that re-centers not only our understanding of how the modern Western world took shape but also the ways in which Eastern Europe has evolved throughout history to become what it is today.
About the Author
JACOB MIKANOWSKI is a historian, a freelance journalist and a critic. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Aeon, Cabinet, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Guardian, The New York Times, newyorker.com, The Point, The Awl, Atlas Obscura, Slate, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives in Berkeley, CA.
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“Goodbye, Eastern Europe traces the stories of the various peoples who have called the region home for the past thousand years, chronicling every period of war and peace, myth and truth, and glory and defeat. . . . Captivating.” —Princeton Alumni Weekly
“[A] kaleidoscopic guide to Eastern Europe’s past. . . . As democracy retreats and a new war rages. . . . One must wonder if its future will resemble the vanished world that Jacob Mikanowski vividly brings to life.” —The Washington Times “A major new work. . . . Mikanowski weaves a rich and amusing tapestry of historical anecdote and personal family history. . . . [and] aims to push back against simplistic, atavistic nationalisms which have defined the post-Communist era.” —Balkan Insight
“The enormous contradiction of a single, vast geopolitical region that evinces a stereotype-defeating multiplicity is captured brilliantly . . . in Goodbye, Eastern Europe. . . . Taut and lucid. . . . An elegiac history.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Mikanowski’s undertaking is a massive one. . . . Moving . . . Powerful . . . Impressive . . . [There is] something special about the place that was once called Eastern Europe. Try to name that special quality and it turns to ash in your mouth. But try, this book seems to say, to hold onto it anyway, even if it’s both in your grasp and slipping away.” —The Washington Post
“Mikanowski manages to pull off the nearly impossible: An accessible and detailed history of Eastern Europe that spans 2,000 years. . . . This very personal perspective gives depth and humanity . . . along with urgency.” —BookPage
“Mikanowski is highly adept at capturing the milieu of each period. . . . This articulate overview conveys an important, broader description of the societies with which millions of Jews once coexisted. . . . A well-written and enlightening read.” —The Jewish Chronicle
“Impressive. . . . Educational and timely . . . For anyone wanting to more fully understand the stakes for the region, and world.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The last millennium hasn’t been kind to people living in the area we call Eastern Europe. . . . [Mikanowski] has timed his book all too well: After a post-Soviet period of relative calm, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought the unlucky region into the spotlight once again.” —Bloomberg
“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. . . . Gripping . . . Informative, deeply engaging. . . . This timely book will appeal to readers seeking a fresh take on European history.” —Library Journal, starred review
“Ambitious. . . . Stunning. . . . Shot through with lyrical reflections and astute analysis, this is a rewarding portrait of a diverse and complex part of the world.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“An epic history. . . . of a part of the world too often ignored, told with vigor, color, and authority.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Do not rush to bid farewell to Eastern Europe until reading this book. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this very personal story of the place that one can’t find on the map pays tribute to the origins of the experiences, cultures and ideas that continue to shape political and ideological battles of the modern world.” —Serhii Plokhy, author of The Last Empire
“With the war in Ukraine, Eastern Europe is once again helping determine the world’s future, as it did at several key moments in the 20th century. Yet for all its historical importance and cultural richness, the region remains a blank on many outsiders’ mental maps. In this dramatic and wide-ranging book, Jacob Mikanowski makes Eastern Europe come to life by rooting its history in individual human stories, showing how diverse peoples lived together from the Middle Ages to the Holocaust and beyond.” —Adam Kirsch, author of The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century
“This wonderful book is a firework display: an unforgettable flash of forgotten past, black humour, wild messianic cult or genocidal horror bursts out of almost every page. Mikanowski, whose own dangerously hybrid family emerged from what he calls this “landscape of rapturous diversity,” has written a chronicle rather than a history, a narrative of Eastern Europe which is about personal experiences rather than the crimes and glories of its leaders. He is a master raconteur whose anecdotes show that grotesque events are serious as well as comic. It matters that Hucul people thought God made the world out of cream. It is not just laughable that Baron von Chaos was put in charge of the Habsburg royal mint (which he promptly embezzled). Mikanowski shows that the vast regions between Germany and Russia are not just a zone of blood and tragedy, but of marvellous human vigour and resilience.” —Neal Ascherson, author of The Black Sea
“Jacob Mikanowski has taken on the seemingly impossible task of writing a comprehensive history of that "Other" Europe, hoping to catch a myriad of vanishing worlds. My initial scepticism was quickly dispelled. Goodbye Eastern Europe succeeds in delighting even a jaded follower of matters East European like me. It is a richly informative and readable book which starts with the Dark Ages and ends with our own even darker era, ranging from the Baltics to the Balkans and covering an enormous swathe of land, describing the ever shifting frontiers and changing nationalities in the course of a historical narrative as vibrant as the area it describes.” —Vesna Goldsworthy, author of The Iron Curtain “A rich, counterintuitive history told with flair, Goodbye Eastern Europe is both a tour of an often-misunderstood part of the world and an examination of political fault lines that continue to shape our lives today.” —Daniel Trilling, author of Light in the Distance “Goodbye Eastern Europe is a collective portrait of people, places, states and ideas, most of which no longer exist. Beautifully written and witty, it presents the region as a place full of magic, vibrancy, diversity, conflict and coexistence. Mikanowski blends together reality and myth, poetry and historical research, personal experience and ideologies to revive and bring us back the civilization that was lost during the calamitous twentieth century but that is still crucial to Eurasian history.” —Eugene Finkel, Kenneth H. Keller Associate Professor of International Affairs “A highly captivating book that delights on every page and dispels the ‘damaging stereotypes’ and ‘dour connotations’ traditionally associated with Eastern Europe. Far more than a simple history, Goodbye, Eastern Europe is a magical swan song for an astonishingly diverse but disappearing world of peasants and poets, resilience and romance, calamity and fantasy, where a shared affinity for the absurd has long been essential for survival.” —Rebecca Lowe, author of The Slow Road to Tehran
“[Mikanowski] takes an appealingly wide-ranging and eclectic approach to this region of shifting borders and multi-layered identities. . . . A captivating and revealing book.” —Geographical Magazine (UK)
“An eloquent and absorbing new plea for the retention of the idea of Eastern Europe. . . . Emphasising how there is far more to the region than post-Sovietness, this is a wonderful exploration forged by a deep love of Europe.” —New European (UK)
“[Mikanowski] challenges the simplifying and often false narratives written by those in power. . . . part history, part sentimental journey. . . . Goodbye, Eastern Europe reads more like a western (but in the east) than a traditional history. . . . Mikanowski continues the process that began with the 1989 revolutions of unearthing the alternative stories that exist on the margins of history, in the soil, in literature, in the landscape.” —Irish Independent (UK)
“An intriguing attempt to trace the residual power of those who are no longer there . . . [an] intimate history.” —Financial Times (UK)
“A light, panoramic portrait of a region that has left a lasting mark on the literary and cultural history of Europe, [Goodbye, Eastern Europe] may well be the most readable overview of Eastern European history yet written. . . . Complexity that usually appears impenetrable unravels seamlessly through unique threads of history.” —History Today Magazine (UK)
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