The John Bills Book Club 19: The Hidden Europe

Posted on September 18, 2012


The Hidden Europe (Francis Tapon)

I always wanted to write a book like this. In ‘The Hidden Europe’, Francis Tapon travels around the 25 countries that make up Eastern Europe and explores them all in decent depth, giving a small historical background as well as a modern review, and summarizes each chapter with what the inhabitants of each country could teach us. One thing that immediately pleased me with this book was the fact that Tapon views the term ‘eastern europe’ 100% geographically, meaning Finland, Greece and Turkey find themselves in this book, despite the fact that no one views them as Eastern European. Strange that, considering that they are all further east than a large percentage of stereotypical Eastern Europe countries (hello Slovakia!) Yes, culturally they are different, but then are you trying to tell me that Estonia and Albania, two countries whose eastern-ness no one would debate, have similar cultures? That is like me saying a photocopier is the same thing as mutton.

The depth in the majority of countries here is the strong point of this book. It’s a non stop conveyor belt of facts and ‘Did You Know…’, with the alarming ignorance of well, everyone, on display throughout. I can have my gripes about the way he covers the Yugoslav wars, but there we go, that was inevitable. He does at least go to pains to make sure the reader knows how complex it is, and that is something. Outside of this, the history is delivered in un-academic speak, which is a good thing, and the majority of his anecdotes are interesting, although he is a bit too ‘oooh, her body was very svelte’ at times, which is alarming coming from a Chilean man in his 40s staying with a majority of female couchsurfers. Yes, the book has a personal memoir side, but some things don’t need to be told.

Still, if you’re planning on heading out to Eastern Europe you can do worse than pick this up. It’s extremely handy in that it isn’t chronological, so you can pick it up and check out any country at any time. Very convenient, very helpful.