Short Reads about Central and Eastern Europe

A good 70% of my personal library is made up of books about the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, and I’m always looking for more. But often these books are huge discourses on history or culture, and while educational and valuable, sometimes shorter works that can be quickly digested are more feasible. I regularly troll the list of Kindle Singles for books about the region—they are rare but often worthwhile reads. The following Kindle Singles, which are pieces of reporting, brief travel narratives, or long essays, have made the biggest impression.

The Greece of the East: A Journey Through Jewish Ukraine Now and Then. Stefan Weidner tries to capture disappearing elements of Ukraine’s past with this ramble through both time and place. Many lovely (sometimes sad) passages make this a read for those who appreciate writing’s ability to reflect essence rather than present information. It’s a look at Ukraine that is unusual and eye-opening, allowing the reader to peer, through Weidner’s eyes, into aspects of its history that might otherwise go overlooked.

Odessa Dreams. Shaun Walker accompanies a group of men on a “romance tour” to Ukraine. These men are looking for wives and couch their efforts in a supposed desire to find a woman with “traditional” values. Walker doesn’t try to moralize the men’s actions—he lets them speak, and the reader can make their own judgment about their reasoning and actions. An informative choice for anyone interested in gender issues or the “mail-order bride” phenomenon.

The Stir of Waters: Radiation, Risk, and the Radon Spa of Jachymov. This is a well-structured Kindle Single on a niche topic: radiated water and its supposed benefits. Paul Voosen visits the Czech Republic to learn more about Jachymov’s healing waters, radiation, and what we don’t know about human biology. This piece of science reporting is made more tantalizing by the touch of mystery that Voosen injects into the narrative.

The Girls, Alone: Six Days in Estonia. This essay is not for anyone who knows about Estonia or the Baltics. It’s for someone who is absolutely new to the region because it is not an in-depth treatment of the country’s culture or history. Bonnie J. Rough’s family connections take her to Estonia, and the reader learns more about her experiences than they do about Estonia. However, this Kindle Single is unique because it’s about a little-known area of the world and might encourage further research, either about Estonia itself or about a reader’s own Estonian heritage.

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