The John Bills Book Club 22: November 2012

Posted on November 30, 2012

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Sliding on the Snow Stone

Sliding on the Snow Stone

Sliding on the Snow Stone – Andy Szpuk
Good lord, Ukraine was not a fun place to be for the first half of the last century. This book was the memoir of Stefan, a kid who grew up in Ukraine during the 30’s and 40’s, two decades that can only be described as completely miserable for the country. First, there was the famine brought on by Stalin’s Five Year Plans, followed by the horrors of World War 2. It is a great picture of Eastern Europe at the time, stuck inbetween the might of Russia to the East and Germany to the West, seemingly competing to see who can be the most violent to the poor buggers stuck in the middle. It is not an easy book to read, stumbling from one moment of despair to another dead family member, but at the same time its a great story of the human desire to survive in any circumstances. Bloody hard, but bloody good.

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Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick
A book of the experiences of people who have escaped the worlds most isolated and secretive state, the Democratic People’s republic of Korea? Hah, it doesn’t get any cheerier does it? Well, believe it or not, it does. The stories of 6 escapees from Chongjin with varying experiences, the day to day lives of North Koreans is painted very vividly throughout, with Demick’s writing proving a revelation. Whilst all 6 stories are fascinating, it is the story of the lovers which is the most interesting, exciting and well, sad. Starting their affair under the cover of darkness, taking years to hold hands and even longer to kiss, to escaping at different times and the eventual underwhelming reunion, it really is a gripping story of love. Not what you expect from a book about North Korea.

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Stalin’s Nose – Rory MacLean
I often tell people that one of my favourite things about Eastern Europe is the sense of humour, and nothing really encapsulates this as well as this book. MacLean is planning a driving trip across Eastern Europe, but his plans are thrown into disarray after his uncle is killing by a falling pig. This leads to his Aunt joining him on the trip, as well as the murderous pig. Trawling down to Hungary in search of new teeth, as well as Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Russia, this is at times an incredibly sad book. It is essentially the story of old age, of growing up through communism and having to deal with a life that was never quite what it seems. Beautiful book.

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Behind the Curtain – Jonathan Wilson
As explained last month, I do love me an Eastern European football book, and this is regarded as one of the best. I’ve read this on a number of occasions, and its always a great little read. Covering pretty much the entire breadth of Eastern Europe in football, there are many things that this book brought to my attention that I wasn’t already aware of, and also it covers a very interesting time in the regions football, whether its the power shift in Ukraine from Dynamo Kiev to Shakhtar Donetsk, the emergence of a very unfashionable big 4 in Poland or the dangers of the Caucasus (how many times have I typed that phrase?), this is one of my favourite books about Eastern European football.

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