counter create hit Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny

Availability: Ready to download

*As heard on NPR's All Things Considered* "Utterly original." -- The New York Times Book Review "Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr. Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it." --Timothy Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom An incisive, humorous, and hea *As heard on NPR's All Things Considered* "Utterly original." -- The New York Times Book Review "Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr. Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it." --Timothy Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom An incisive, humorous, and heartbreaking account of people in formerly Communist countries holding fast to their former lives, by the acclaimed author of How to Feed a Dictator For hundreds of years, Bulgarian Gypsies trained bears to dance, welcoming them into their families and taking them on the road to perform. In the early 2000s, with the fall of Communism, they were forced to release the bears into a wildlife refuge. But even today, whenever the bears see a human, they still get up on their hind legs to dance. In the tradition of Ryszard Kapuściński, award-winning Polish journalist Witold Szablowski uncovers remarkable stories of people throughout Eastern Europe and in Cuba who, like Bulgaria's dancing bears, are now free but who seem nostalgic for the time when they were not. His on-the-ground reporting--of smuggling a car into Ukraine, hitchhiking through Kosovo as it declares independence, arguing with Stalin-adoring tour guides at the Stalin Museum, sleeping in London's Victoria Station alongside a homeless woman from Poland, and giving taxi rides to Cubans fearing for the life of Fidel Castro--provides a fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule. From the Introduction: "Guys with wacky hair who promise a great deal have been springing up in our part of the world like mushrooms after rain. And people go running after them, like bears after their keepers. . . . Fear of a changing world, and longing for someone . . . who will promise that life will be the same as it was in the past, are not confined to Regime-Change Land. In half the West, empty promises are made, wrapped in shiny paper like candy. And for this candy, people are happy to get up on their hind legs and dance."


Compare
Ads Banner

*As heard on NPR's All Things Considered* "Utterly original." -- The New York Times Book Review "Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr. Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it." --Timothy Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom An incisive, humorous, and hea *As heard on NPR's All Things Considered* "Utterly original." -- The New York Times Book Review "Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr. Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it." --Timothy Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom An incisive, humorous, and heartbreaking account of people in formerly Communist countries holding fast to their former lives, by the acclaimed author of How to Feed a Dictator For hundreds of years, Bulgarian Gypsies trained bears to dance, welcoming them into their families and taking them on the road to perform. In the early 2000s, with the fall of Communism, they were forced to release the bears into a wildlife refuge. But even today, whenever the bears see a human, they still get up on their hind legs to dance. In the tradition of Ryszard Kapuściński, award-winning Polish journalist Witold Szablowski uncovers remarkable stories of people throughout Eastern Europe and in Cuba who, like Bulgaria's dancing bears, are now free but who seem nostalgic for the time when they were not. His on-the-ground reporting--of smuggling a car into Ukraine, hitchhiking through Kosovo as it declares independence, arguing with Stalin-adoring tour guides at the Stalin Museum, sleeping in London's Victoria Station alongside a homeless woman from Poland, and giving taxi rides to Cubans fearing for the life of Fidel Castro--provides a fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule. From the Introduction: "Guys with wacky hair who promise a great deal have been springing up in our part of the world like mushrooms after rain. And people go running after them, like bears after their keepers. . . . Fear of a changing world, and longing for someone . . . who will promise that life will be the same as it was in the past, are not confined to Regime-Change Land. In half the West, empty promises are made, wrapped in shiny paper like candy. And for this candy, people are happy to get up on their hind legs and dance."

30 review for Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    In Dancing Bears, Szabłowski investigates the Romani dancing bears - kept and trained for centuries to perform and serve as the livelihood for the traveling peoples. When Bulgaria joined the European Union this practice of bear-keeping became illegal, and the bears were gathered up and placed in a reserve where they were allowed to live their days "as bears", even though they didn't know how. They were taught to hunt, to eat by themselves, to hibernate, and to live in this new way. Some made it, In Dancing Bears, Szabłowski investigates the Romani dancing bears - kept and trained for centuries to perform and serve as the livelihood for the traveling peoples. When Bulgaria joined the European Union this practice of bear-keeping became illegal, and the bears were gathered up and placed in a reserve where they were allowed to live their days "as bears", even though they didn't know how. They were taught to hunt, to eat by themselves, to hibernate, and to live in this new way. Some made it, but many did not. Szabłowski employs this metaphor of the dancing bears for various people groups after the fall of Communism. He travels to Cuba and several Eastern European communities, interviewing people about their lives, their nostalgia for that life "under tyranny", and their distaste for the current ways and structures. The first half of the book focuses solely on the bears and their Romani handlers. This was the strongest section of the book, with Szabłowski sharing the stories of many bears, the veterinarians who care for them in the new reserve, and the Romani stories of before and after the bears were confiscated. The second half of the book seemed less organized and polished, but nevertheless intriguing, and linking back to the central theme of longing and nostalgia. Sidenote: The English translator (Antonia Lloyd-Jones) made the decision to translate the people group discussed in this book as "gypsy". I am not sure if this is something specific to the Polish language, or other languages represented in the book (Bulgarian?), but in American English this is considered a derogatory term. In the context of the stories, it seemed like a name and a title that the people gave themselves, said without derision. I am curious to learn more about her reasoning for this word choice, but there was no discussion of that in my copy of the book. If you have any insight, please feel free to comment or DM me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kristy K

    3.5 Stars This was such an interesting story about a slice of recent history I feel few know about. Szablowski tells stories related to the dancing bears in the first part and former citizen’s opinions of the fall of the USSR in the second. Dancing bears were a part of Bulgarian gypsy customs for a while, when the Soviet Union collapsed this cultural performance was no longer acceptable. Their handlers would de-teeth these bears, get them addicted to alcohol, and many times abuse them. Sadly, thi 3.5 Stars This was such an interesting story about a slice of recent history I feel few know about. Szablowski tells stories related to the dancing bears in the first part and former citizen’s opinions of the fall of the USSR in the second. Dancing bears were a part of Bulgarian gypsy customs for a while, when the Soviet Union collapsed this cultural performance was no longer acceptable. Their handlers would de-teeth these bears, get them addicted to alcohol, and many times abuse them. Sadly, this wasn’t even illegal. One man (or really a few) had bears as pets and attempted (and believed) they could domesticate them. Later, all of the bears get rounded up and sent to nature reserve to reacclimate them to the wild. The second part of this novel takes a look st people who were previously under Soviet Russia rule. Some felt (and did) fair better under the USSR than in their new capitalist or democratic environments. Others were proud and glad for their new independent nations. It was interesting to hear both sides. While I absolutely loved part one, part two wasn’t as engrossing to me, although it was still interesting to read about.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gergana

    "You lay down on your stomach and you let the bear walk on top of you for luck and good health. Just for a few coins." was what a relative told me when I first saw the enormous animal walking peacefully among crowds of people. Next to her would usually be a man playing a musical instrument called gadulka and the bear would stand up on its hind legs and move around as if dancing. At that time, I don't think many were aware of what it took to break a bear. We were all fascinated and took it for no "You lay down on your stomach and you let the bear walk on top of you for luck and good health. Just for a few coins." was what a relative told me when I first saw the enormous animal walking peacefully among crowds of people. Next to her would usually be a man playing a musical instrument called gadulka and the bear would stand up on its hind legs and move around as if dancing. At that time, I don't think many were aware of what it took to break a bear. We were all fascinated and took it for normal to see such a majestic beast walking among us, riding the bus with us or to let her walk on top of our backs for "health". We could only feel love and admiration. I don't think anyone is left who would consider seeing a bear on the main street normal anymore. But this book isn't about bears, as strange as it may seem. It's a really clever comparison on people and the animals that we used to torture, even if we weren't aware of it. I hate books that deal with actual politics in our real world, mainly because I find it hard to believe that situations are always black and white, the way these books try to present them. But this was such an alien book for me, seeing the past and the present of many Eastern European nations compared to what was and is happening to the dancing bears. How despite being granted "freedom" we still "stand up and start dancing" every time someone is about to throw food at us. How being a democratic country does not always result in a democratic mindset of its people. And this book is about so much more. It also explores what happens to the people whose bear, their only means for making money to feed their family, is taken away. How people despite torturing the animals, still loved them and sometimes the loss made them waste away until they died. The book also explores different problems from different Eastern European countries, but always comes back to the story of the Bulgarian dancing bears. I highly recommend it, if you just feel like reading something different. I find it fascinating that this book has been translated to so many languages apart from Bulgarian... Oh, and here are a few pictures of Bulgaria that don't look miserable and poor :D [image error] Because I'm tired of questions such as: (actual questions I have been asked:) "Do you have cars?" "Do you know what brocolli is?" "Have you seen cranes before? We use them to build buildings?" "Where is Bulgaria now?" "Are you here to immigrate?" x 1000.... "Europe? I don't know of such a country...Oh wait, you mean Eastern Europe." "Is Bulgaria in Asia?" - by a European young person in his mid-twenties XD

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kamila Kunda

    I first read about the English translation of this book and quickly got the Polish original. In “Tańczące niedźwiedzie” (“Dancing Bears”) Witold Szabłowski gives a glimpse into how various places (not necessarily whole countries) deal with the post-communism transition on a social, economic and political level; in case of Havana it’s more about gauging how ordinary people feel about the future and it is enlightening to read such a wide spectrum of opinions from Cubans. The first half of the book I first read about the English translation of this book and quickly got the Polish original. In “Tańczące niedźwiedzie” (“Dancing Bears”) Witold Szabłowski gives a glimpse into how various places (not necessarily whole countries) deal with the post-communism transition on a social, economic and political level; in case of Havana it’s more about gauging how ordinary people feel about the future and it is enlightening to read such a wide spectrum of opinions from Cubans. The first half of the book is devoted to giving (relative) freedom to dancing bears in various parts of Bulgaria. Szabłowski travels to meet former bear keepers and hears their stories: of love and loss, affection and discipline, greed and manipulation. It’s not only an issue of animal abuse but also caring about the welfare of people who often had been bear keepers and entertainers for generations and after bears were taken away from them, are left with nothing. These are the stories provoking a variety of emotions. The author’s sense of humour is palpable in every story, regardless if it’s about a homeless elderly Polish lady in London, a travel guide organising tours around the places important in the lifestyle of Karadžić in Belgrade, repurposing concrete bunkers built in the times of Hoxha in Tirana or the business acumen of locals working in a Hobbit village in Polish Sierakowo Sławieńskie. People from his stories are creative, entrepreneurial, inventive, with a can-do attitude. The style of writing is extremely entertaining and yet the reality is often grim, and Szabłowski, between the lines, asks vital questions. Can freedom be forced upon people? Can some live better under a more totalitarian regime? Is that Western-style freedom genuine freedom or just an illusion of it? There is a lot to take out from this marvellous reportage. My only wish is that it was longer, a bit more in depth, more informative. I feel that those like me, who have lived through communism and witnessed the times of transformation in Eastern Europe, will be most moved by it. Still, it’s an excellent book for everyone.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    ‘Riveting.’ Overland ‘A compelling and nuanced portrait of the push between the freedoms of modernity and nostalgia for the old communist system…[Szablowski ] displays the qualities of a top-notch reporter: an eye for telling detail and ­inherent sympathy for his subject.’ Australian ‘Fascinating.’ Otago Daily Times ‘Utterly original…Provokes a far-reaching and unresolved conversation about what freedom might really mean.’ New York Times Book Review ‘Szablowski has a keen eye for the absurd.’ Lite ‘Riveting.’ Overland ‘A compelling and nuanced portrait of the push between the freedoms of modernity and nostalgia for the old communist system…[Szablowski ] displays the qualities of a top-notch reporter: an eye for telling detail and ­inherent sympathy for his subject.’ Australian ‘Fascinating.’ Otago Daily Times ‘Utterly original…Provokes a far-reaching and unresolved conversation about what freedom might really mean.’ New York Times Book Review ‘Szablowski has a keen eye for the absurd.’ Literary Flits ‘Elegantly pulling together the varied threads, Szabłowski combines personal histories, letting his interviewee do the talking, with a unique storytelling device. As a result, Dancing Bears is both a compelling social history and a stunning example of literary journalism.’ AU Review ‘Dancing Bears has the immediate power of observation typical of some of the best literary traditions of Polish reportage and just like its predecessors it relishes in an allegorical understanding of things.’ Culture.pl ‘Polish journalist Witold Szablowski uncovers life after communism with a curious, humorous and, at times, tender account of regular folk struggling to come to terms with the new world.’ Adelaide Review ‘A fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule. So, you know, maybe not a great distraction from what’s going on right now, but something that will at least help you understand it a little better.’ Awl ‘Witold Szablowski is a born storyteller. His reports from the post-Communist world read like fairy-tales with the stench of reality. Absurd, darkly funny, compassionate, his book is a literary jewel.’ Ian Buruma ‘Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it.’ Timothy Snyder ‘A fascinating and wide-ranging book that shows how, across different and diverse species, old habits die slowly, if at all. Humans, like other animals, often don’t know when they’ve gained freedom because conditions of oppression have become the norm and they’re unable to adjust to a newfound lack of restraint. Szablowski’s clever and metaphorical use of dancing bears to make this point is beautifully done.’ Marc Bekoff ‘Heartrending…A sharply drawn account of people in “newly free societies” who long for life to be the same as it was in the unfree past…Connected by the allegory of performing bears, Szablowski’s melancholy personality studies underscore freedom’s challenges and the seductions of authoritarian rule.’ Publishers Weekly ‘A poignant allegory about the human costs of regime change. Combining black humour with lyrical prose, Szablowski brilliantly captures the tragic disorientation of men and women whose lifes were bifurcated by the sudden collapse of Communism and ruthless onslaught of neoliberal capitalism. Dancing Bears should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand the growing appeal of authoritarian leaders in Eastern Europe today.’ Kristen Ghodsee A new Kapuscinski is among us.’ Gazeta Wyborcza

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robert Wechsler

    This is really two books. The first is about dancing bears, more specifically Bulgarian Romani dancing bears, which were outlawed ten years ago, when Bulgaria joined the European Union. It is an amazingly well-chosen series of monologues from Romani, those trying to save the bears, and others. I was lucky enough to see one of these bears 35 years ago in a visit to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. It was such a part of the resort town that it took me a while to realize the bear was standing in th This is really two books. The first is about dancing bears, more specifically Bulgarian Romani dancing bears, which were outlawed ten years ago, when Bulgaria joined the European Union. It is an amazingly well-chosen series of monologues from Romani, those trying to save the bears, and others. I was lucky enough to see one of these bears 35 years ago in a visit to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. It was such a part of the resort town that it took me a while to realize the bear was standing in the snack bar line directly in front of me. I forget what he ordered. The second book is a travelogue through post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe, only some of it involving those nostalgic for the good ol’ days. This book doesn’t stick together and, at least for me, it doesn’t really tie in with the first book. But there are some excellent essays and monologues here, as well.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emm C²

    Dancing Bears is a massively interesting book on the rehabilitating of former "dancing" bears of Eastern Europe and its strange parallels to life in various countries after the collapse of Communism. Dancing Bears is a perfect combination in nonfiction of accessible, entertaining and unflinchingly honest. I'm not well-versed on politics, truthfully, but I find the history and culture of these countries fascinating, especially since they are all firsthand interviews from the people who were there. Dancing Bears is a massively interesting book on the rehabilitating of former "dancing" bears of Eastern Europe and its strange parallels to life in various countries after the collapse of Communism. Dancing Bears is a perfect combination in nonfiction of accessible, entertaining and unflinchingly honest. I'm not well-versed on politics, truthfully, but I find the history and culture of these countries fascinating, especially since they are all firsthand interviews from the people who were there. The first half, focused on the (ex-)dancing bears is incredibly tragic. The methods of training a bear to dance undeniably created a practice that lent itself to far too much cruelty, many of the bears having suffered abuse or malnutrition at the hands of their trainer that left such scars that rehabilitation can never heal them. Even worse is that in some cases the malnutrition was completely unintentional, in that the owner believed they were treating the bear kindly by feeding them human foods like candies, which are unhealthy for a human and moreso for a bear. Fortunately, those bears now live in a center that is as close as they can get to living in the wilderness, free from the brutality of being made to dance. The second half is mainly vignettes and discussions with people of various walks of life living in Eastern and Southeast Europe, Russia and Cuba - a mix of the surreal, sorrowful, disturbing, and optimistic for the future. They are thought-provoking and strange in the way only raw reality can be, providing an unusually close parallel to the themes explored in the first chapter. I highly recommend for any cultural, political and historical enthusiast interested in the former USSR and current affairs in Europe. A top-notch collection. I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pascale

    Not a book but a series of articles or, more often, mere interviews from a variety of countries: Bulgaria, Cuba, Ukraine, Albania, Estonia, Serbia, Georgia, Greece etc. Most of these reportages were already out-of-date when the book came out in Polish in 2014. Translating them into English in 2018 makes no sense at all. Although the short introduction makes some sort of claim about these texts highlighting how difficult it is for humans as well as for bears to acclimatize themselves to freedom a Not a book but a series of articles or, more often, mere interviews from a variety of countries: Bulgaria, Cuba, Ukraine, Albania, Estonia, Serbia, Georgia, Greece etc. Most of these reportages were already out-of-date when the book came out in Polish in 2014. Translating them into English in 2018 makes no sense at all. Although the short introduction makes some sort of claim about these texts highlighting how difficult it is for humans as well as for bears to acclimatize themselves to freedom after decades of enslavement/dictatorship, Szablowski doesn't have enough intellectual sophistication or training to explore this theme in depth. Half way through the book, he gives up trying to give a theoretical framework to his dispatches and the whole thing peters out without a semblance of a conclusion.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jessica T.

    Holy dancing bears... This book was excellent. The first part of the book gives the reader a concise history of the dancing bears of Europe and it ends with the conservation effort of these bears. The second part discusses how citizens of post communist countries are finding difficulties adjusting to freedom/capitalism. It shows the parallels between the bears and the people and helps explain why freedom is so difficult. This was an eye opener for me and written in a language anyone can understa Holy dancing bears... This book was excellent. The first part of the book gives the reader a concise history of the dancing bears of Europe and it ends with the conservation effort of these bears. The second part discusses how citizens of post communist countries are finding difficulties adjusting to freedom/capitalism. It shows the parallels between the bears and the people and helps explain why freedom is so difficult. This was an eye opener for me and written in a language anyone can understand. (netgally)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)

    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits This book is in two halves, the first of which tells of the last few Bulgarian Roma families to own dancing bears. Szablowski spent time talking with these families about how they kept and trained their bears, how they were fed and cared for. He also spoke with the Austrain Four Paws charity which was committed to rescuing the bears and now provides them with a safe home and the illusion of freedom. Having been captives for practically all th See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits This book is in two halves, the first of which tells of the last few Bulgarian Roma families to own dancing bears. Szablowski spent time talking with these families about how they kept and trained their bears, how they were fed and cared for. He also spoke with the Austrain Four Paws charity which was committed to rescuing the bears and now provides them with a safe home and the illusion of freedom. Having been captives for practically all their lives, none of the bears would survive absolute freedom in the wild. What is particularly saddening though is that some are so institutionalised that even the small semblance of liberty can be too much of cope with. Sometimes it seems as though those bears would rather return to the pain of nose rings and beatings but with the security of the life they knew. Learning how to fend for themselves is just too bewildering. Szablowski noticed a similar trait in some human groups who had been ruled by communism for decades. He likens their experiences and nostalgia to that of the bears and, in the second half of the book, travels to various Eastern European countries to listen to people reminisce about the good life they no longer have. What was surprising for me was that these aren't people who did particularly well financially under communism, but those who, like the bears, felt a level of security and social responsibility that is now actively discouraged under the greedy capitalist system. Farms which once employed and fed whole communities now might only employ a half dozen men and the food is sold elsewhere for a profit. Towns that once thrived are now all but abandoned because the jobs are all in the cities. It is fortunate that Szablowski has a good way of imparting humour and a keen eye for the absurd otherwise Dancing Bears could have been a very depressing book. Instead it is a fairly light read, but one with a deeper, thoughtful side. Although the extreme version of communism was not a pleasant system to be ruled by and I certainly don't advocate the return of animal torture for entertainment, is our continuing rush to extreme Western capitalism really the best way for our societies to live either? I could understand the longing of these people for a past that might not have actually existed in quite the way they remember, but that desire for sense of security and belonging is universal and very real. Unfortunately it is also easily played upon by men with 'wacky hairstyles' the world over to lead us into something that won't turn out to be what we thought we would get at all.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Leighton

    "There's poverty everywhere. But equality only exists here, in our country (Cuba)." LOVED this very original comparison of the outlawed practice of dancing bears in Bulgaria, "freed" one by one onto a reserve, with people across Eastern Europe and Cuba who are "freed" from life under communism and/or dictatorships. Things I learned: Many women thought (and continue to think) Stalin was sexy. Albania is covered with up to 750,000 giant concrete mushroom like Communist era bunkers. We have evidence "There's poverty everywhere. But equality only exists here, in our country (Cuba)." LOVED this very original comparison of the outlawed practice of dancing bears in Bulgaria, "freed" one by one onto a reserve, with people across Eastern Europe and Cuba who are "freed" from life under communism and/or dictatorships. Things I learned: Many women thought (and continue to think) Stalin was sexy. Albania is covered with up to 750,000 giant concrete mushroom like Communist era bunkers. We have evidence people have been domesticating bears for over 8,000 years. Bears ears are working while they hibernate and they can quickly wake up - yet they go three to four months without producing any urine or feces - amazing! Bulgarians believed bears could cure people by lying down on top of them. In all seriousness I really loved this book. It is divided into two parts - the first half dealing with the tradition of dancing bears in Bulgaria - how they are obtained, trained, and used - apparently well loved by the families who own them. And later (in 2007!) the outlawing of dancing bears followed by an attempt to round up all the bears and set them "free" on a reserve - free with limits. I found this part fascinating! The second half looks at post communist countries and how people are dealing with life under capitalism. Szablowski makes a strong comparison that both bears and humans have a difficult time adjusting to life with more, but incomplete freedom. It had never really occurred to me that people would be nostalgic about life under Stalin - yikes - but after reading this I understand much better. Still don't understand so many women finding hi so attractive. But in general I understand why people are not always enthralled with Capitalism. "Since its (the Soviet Union) collapse, everything is worse. In the past, the doctors couldn't refuse to help a poor person. Now the health service is private, and eve if you break a leg you have to pay. It's the same with education. A retired person used to have the phone for free, and paid less for electricity. . . . And life gets worse and worse for women. In the USSR men had a good life. There were no wars. And if a man hit you, you could go to the party committee. The committee informed the party cell at the factory, and the abuser could get in big trouble. These days the men have no work and they're frustrated. And when one of them hits you, you've no one to defend you." And the later, the Greeks feel like they have been made a colony by the EU but especially Germany. And they much preferred life before. "The German is a robot. He gets up at six, goes to work, and gets drunk on schedule, once a week. . . A Greek is good fun, friend, family. After work I always meet up with my friends. We sit and chat. We visit each other. But the Geran. . . never enters his neighbors' house." So much to think about.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    This is a really good book. To start with, you accept the metaphor that an Eastern European removed from the shackles of Communism is like a dancing bear, reduced to wondering what they did wrong and where their next meal is coming from. But then we see the truth – this is about dancing bears, not metaphorically. And by Chapter 3 you clearly see the fact that huge international fund-raising efforts were undertaken, for the sake of a couple of dozen animals at most, and that it was clearly an ant This is a really good book. To start with, you accept the metaphor that an Eastern European removed from the shackles of Communism is like a dancing bear, reduced to wondering what they did wrong and where their next meal is coming from. But then we see the truth – this is about dancing bears, not metaphorically. And by Chapter 3 you clearly see the fact that huge international fund-raising efforts were undertaken, for the sake of a couple of dozen animals at most, and that it was clearly an anti-Gypsy/gadjo/whatever campaign, to remove livelihoods, however debatable, from rural, unemancipated, semi-literate minority families. The writing is also very educative – who knew one of the benefits-and-acts-combined of the bears was giving back massages, and healing people?! The aforementioned Chapter 3 is at the core of this book – you really do have to admire the way the author backs away from things and just quotes his interviewee at length on the subject, and you do have do ask yourself which is amoral – a couple of dozen enslaved bears, or the man in question's rampant racism against their owners? Both seem too antiquated and plain wrong, but both are sides to the issue that have to be seen and addressed. And then we find the metaphorical dancing bears after all – the ladies who belovedly guide at Stalin's Museum in Gori (I know them well…), Cubans fearing for a life post-Castro, people giving funky tours regarding Radovan Karadzic the war criminal, stateless Russians in Estonia with no passport to move on, and no language skills to ever call their own country home. In picking concise looks at key places in the world's most interesting recent history, the book is just a winner – if only it were more up-to-date and current, and/or at least acknowledged its vintage. But what it can easily do is inspire debate – just witness me, almost sounding sympathetic to the bear owners and not the bears. I'd never have expected that. So whether you side with the pioneering workers in Albania, or pity their pittance of a wage, you can engage with this book. Is it right that Europe finally taught Greece to not give people forty year pensions for getting a part-time state job out of nepotism, or is it right that Germany said this was a rum deal, you Greeks need a financial fillip, then proceeded to buy every single utility, airport, dock, shipyard etc at a budget price, and walked away with the profits? This is a wonderful book for providing snapshots of such political issues, that are only going to run and run in their relevance.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    I didn't learn anything knew about how people feel about democracy in post-communist countries. However, my knowledge of bears in captivity has increased drastically. The first half the book is about bears, the second is a collection of anecdotes from eastern europe in the 2000s. Whether you agree or not that people adapting to democracy are like traumatized bears who can no longer survive in the wild, its still a fun read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rokay Mukhtar

    The book has two parts, the first part is about the dancing bears, their interactions with people, how their lives change after captivity, how they are made and taught to dance and the most interesting part “FREEDOM”. The second part is about the nostalgia of Eastern Europe countries which is not very interesting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    First rate reportage of Bulgarian former dancing bears and Slavic former collective workers, both nauseated by the freedom of the ways of the West, longing for a return to tyranny. Hilarious and tragic.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a breezy, quirky, funny travelogue that might even be better as an audible book. Having said that, I think the author may have been going for a deep allegorical examination of the psychological effects of regime change on the populations that are suddenly freed from tyranny. Either way the book is entertaining and I recommend it to most readers. Read the kindle highlights and judge for yourself; the writing is consistent throughout. There's an introduction that discusses the overall theme This is a breezy, quirky, funny travelogue that might even be better as an audible book. Having said that, I think the author may have been going for a deep allegorical examination of the psychological effects of regime change on the populations that are suddenly freed from tyranny. Either way the book is entertaining and I recommend it to most readers. Read the kindle highlights and judge for yourself; the writing is consistent throughout. There's an introduction that discusses the overall theme of governmental change throughout Europe and of the release of performing bears in Bulgaria and how the two are related. (All of the stories that follow are anecdotal and I think the connection is absurdly gimmicky but very entertaining nonetheless.) Part 1 is composed of 10 short titled chapters and is about the performing bears and their gypsy owners. The author has a good eye for an interesting angle and manages to make the whole thing simultaneously hilarious and sad. Part 2 is also composed of 10 short chapters (same chapter titles) and is about the various peoples of Europe (mostly, the first chapter is about Cubans) freed (not in their opinion) from communist rule. Each of these chapters begins with an epigraph taken from a story from the same chapter in part 1. I liked the stories of part 1 better and didn't particularly like chapters 5 (Estonia) and 6 (Poland) but the chapters are short and that's not a reason to skip this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Micah

    I have deeply mixed feelings about this book. It's hard to believe the same person wrote the first and second halves. The first half, focused on the dancing bears, is brilliant as a piece of writing, though it's politically quite bad. He has some amount of sympathy for those suffering in the wake of the fall of Communism, but he also is incredibly paternalistic towards them throughout his telling. The upshot throughout those early chapters is that these Eastern Europeans are just too dumb to han I have deeply mixed feelings about this book. It's hard to believe the same person wrote the first and second halves. The first half, focused on the dancing bears, is brilliant as a piece of writing, though it's politically quite bad. He has some amount of sympathy for those suffering in the wake of the fall of Communism, but he also is incredibly paternalistic towards them throughout his telling. The upshot throughout those early chapters is that these Eastern Europeans are just too dumb to handle the incredible burden of freedom that the imposition of capitalism has put on them. The second half, on the other hand, is just a randomly assembled collection of his travels in formerly/current Communist countries, with almost no stories that speak to the book's subtitle — except in a few chapters that completely eschew the subtlety that he writes with in the first half. (Oh, you found a group of Georgians who literally work at the Stalin museum in Georgia and are incredibly nostalgic for him? I'm shocked!) I'll give it three stars on the sole basis of the first half, which I consider to be an incredible piece of literary-journalistic writing — with the caveat that those three stars are not meant to vouch for the book's terrible politics in any way.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jonathon

    I don’t know if it was the translation or the writing, but i found the book a little confusing at parts. Especially the second half, I struggled to see what the message was. The title was a little misleading, because there wasn’t complete nostalgia (Greece or Estonia chapters) or there wasn’t a complete loss of “tyranny” (Cuba chapter). The first half, that was just about dancing bears, that was really interesting, and a cohesive story, but the second was a bit flat. I appreciate what he was try I don’t know if it was the translation or the writing, but i found the book a little confusing at parts. Especially the second half, I struggled to see what the message was. The title was a little misleading, because there wasn’t complete nostalgia (Greece or Estonia chapters) or there wasn’t a complete loss of “tyranny” (Cuba chapter). The first half, that was just about dancing bears, that was really interesting, and a cohesive story, but the second was a bit flat. I appreciate what he was trying to do, the thematic connections, but it didn’t quite land for me. But enough negatives. Standout chapters for me included the Georgian chapter, the Cuban chapter, and the Albanian (along with the first half).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    The premise of the book was fascinating for me. I learned a lot, but it fell short for me in a lot of ways. It's a serious of interviews and rather than use them to explicitly tell a story, the reader is left to make a lot of conclusions on their own. I didn't feel like the story device comparing the dancing bears to post communism life were always very obvious. On the whole, I learned a lot of facts, both about dancing bears, and eastern European countries, but as a book and story telling devic The premise of the book was fascinating for me. I learned a lot, but it fell short for me in a lot of ways. It's a serious of interviews and rather than use them to explicitly tell a story, the reader is left to make a lot of conclusions on their own. I didn't feel like the story device comparing the dancing bears to post communism life were always very obvious. On the whole, I learned a lot of facts, both about dancing bears, and eastern European countries, but as a book and story telling device it fell flat for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    Interesting premise but unconvincing to me. I do not see capitalism as "newly free societies." In actuality, the descriptions of people scrambling to make money is not freedom. I also have been reading Second Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich which gives me a better picture of the readjustments made by people living under Communism.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    This is a really cool and interesting way to tell a story about post-Communist Europe (and also Cuba). It’s divided into two sections: The first is a seemingly innocuous long narrative about the dancing bears of Bulgaria who were released when Bulgaria joined the EU. The second half is where it gets interesting: it’s maybe 10 smaller stories focused on reporting in different stories in different post-communist countries. The main thread between them is Szablowski’s argument that people in post-c This is a really cool and interesting way to tell a story about post-Communist Europe (and also Cuba). It’s divided into two sections: The first is a seemingly innocuous long narrative about the dancing bears of Bulgaria who were released when Bulgaria joined the EU. The second half is where it gets interesting: it’s maybe 10 smaller stories focused on reporting in different stories in different post-communist countries. The main thread between them is Szablowski’s argument that people in post-communist countries are basically dancing bears: they have no idea what to do with their freedom now that they have it. The framing device of the bears seemed a little weird to me at first but it all came together in the second half of the book. It’s a more non traditional way of doing journalism and I think his analogy doesn’t always hold up but the basic point is well made because Szablowski is a good reporter. He likes to let his subjects do a lot of the talking.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marshall

    Excellent overview of people coping with Eastern Europe with the fall of communism. The dancing bears of the title refers to an an outlawed carnival act, popular in rural Bulgaria. The dancing bears serve as a metaphor for other victims in Estonia, Poland, Serbia, Georgia, and even Greece (they are suffering the aftermath of EU membership and don’t really belong here). The first chapter is a great meditation on how very similar things are in Eastern Europe to other areas of the world victimized Excellent overview of people coping with Eastern Europe with the fall of communism. The dancing bears of the title refers to an an outlawed carnival act, popular in rural Bulgaria. The dancing bears serve as a metaphor for other victims in Estonia, Poland, Serbia, Georgia, and even Greece (they are suffering the aftermath of EU membership and don’t really belong here). The first chapter is a great meditation on how very similar things are in Eastern Europe to other areas of the world victimized by populism. Be they Poles forced to dress up as Hobbits, Russians in Narva, old ladies filled with impure thoughts about Stalin (working at the Stalin Museum in Gori), former dictator tourism in Belgrade, or Greeks seeking to topple capitalism, this book provides not only a good overview of the fragility of freedom in Eastern Europe, but also a warning to other areas of the world as well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Olga Nakhodkina

    This book must be read in high schools of post communist countries. It opened my eyes on many things that are going on with my native country. When you are trying to change this world for better, you surrounded by mostly likeminded people, and you forget that there is people described in this book. It is very eyes opening, when you are not only seeing them on the street, but you also read their stories. I got from Moon to Earth after this book, and I bought a couple to present for my friends a This book must be read in high schools of post communist countries. It opened my eyes on many things that are going on with my native country. When you are trying to change this world for better, you surrounded by mostly likeminded people, and you forget that there is people described in this book. It is very eyes opening, when you are not only seeing them on the street, but you also read their stories. I got from Moon to Earth after this book, and I bought a couple to present for my friends and family.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    For both work and family I occasionally travel to Eastern Europe. In many conversations I have been surprised and confused how people pine for the “communist time”. I was just especially perplexed at the crowds of Germans in DDR museums talking about how great the old days were. This book helped me to understand those emotions and current Hungarian politics.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gaelen

    This book was a lot more about bear rescue than it was about life after communism. It’s a great mission, but I have a hard time hearing about animals being treated inhumanely, and a lot of it was upsetting to read — especially when it comes to the bears’ lingering psychological damage.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jade Quarrell

    Fascinating comparison about the rewilding of bears and the experiences of those living through changes in political regime. Well written, sympathetic and very readable.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Wide in scope but approachable snapshots of life in Central Europe after the fall of communism.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Georgia

    Interesting, curious.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Yannie

    The first half of the book is excellently researched and well-written. It focuses on the Bulgarian Romani tradition of "Dancing Bears" and the efforts to liberate them. The writer offers first-hand stories from different perspectives, from that of the bear-keepers, their family, and the rescuers, and the stories are just heartbreaking. The practice of "bear-keeping" is absolute horror. Bear-keepers inflict so much pain to the bears — putting a ring through its nose, one of the most sensitive bod The first half of the book is excellently researched and well-written. It focuses on the Bulgarian Romani tradition of "Dancing Bears" and the efforts to liberate them. The writer offers first-hand stories from different perspectives, from that of the bear-keepers, their family, and the rescuers, and the stories are just heartbreaking. The practice of "bear-keeping" is absolute horror. Bear-keepers inflict so much pain to the bears — putting a ring through its nose, one of the most sensitive body parts of a bear, and often beating, de-teething, and getting them addicted to alcohol — and yet, most of them truly love their bears and see them as part of the family. One owner even died shortly after a bear was taken from him due to grief and anguish. This heartfelt belief that you're doing something great, while in fact you're unwittingly causing so much harm, is a much more painful and difficult situation for both the abuser and the abused. There is a lot of think about here, but for me a big takeaway is that this reflects very badly on us as a species. Then there's the tragic story of the bears' rehabilitation. The fact is that these bears will never truly restore their natural instincts and be "free." They will never unlearn the "mentality of captives." Freedom is a tricky concept for the bears to grasp, and if given out in too large a dose, could even distress them. The second part comprises of stories from Cuba, Poland, Ukraine, Georgie and Athens following the fall of USSR and the rise of capitalism. Some of the people interviewed do long for the old times, while others fare quite well and have no desire whatsoever to going back to "life under tyranny." And so even though the people sketches are fun and informative to read, they simply are not what the book title says they would be. I expected more reporting on that "nostalgia," and in its place is a collection of delightful vignettes on former USSR citizens’ lives. Not bad, just much less profound than the first half, and sadly a little predictable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    In the words of Michael Bluth, I don't know what I expected.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.