Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Review: "Picnic at the Iron Curtain" by Susan Viets
From Goodreads: Welcome to the world of collapsing Communism. It is the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall when people are still willing to risk all to cross the Iron Curtain to the West. In this adventure-packed memoir Susan Viets, a student turned journalist, arrives in Communist Hungary in 1988 and begins reporting for the Guardian, not at all prepared for what lies ahead. She helps East Germans escape to the West at a picnic, moves to the Soviet Union where she battles authorities for accreditation as the first foreign journalist in Ukraine and then watches, amazed, as the entire political system collapses. Lured by new travel opportunities, Viets shops her way across Central Asia, stumbling into a tank attack in Tajikistan and the start of the Tajik civil war. "Picnic at the Iron Curtain" shows every day people at the centre of dramatic events from Budapest to Bishkek and Chernobyl to Chechnya. It is a memoir that spans a period of momentous historical change from 1988-1998, following through with an eyewitness account of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004.
My Thoughts: This book appealed to me because of my interest in all things Russia and Eastern Europe. Ms. Viets, in her role as a journalist, had a front row seat to the fall of communist Eastern Europe and details these events in Picnic at the Iron Curtain. She travels through Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Central Asia, and Bosnia and describes the good, the bad and the ugly as life as people knew it changed forever.
I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to see these events take place through the eyes of someone from the 'West'. Ms. Viets had some really interesting experiences and she tells them in such detail that you can almost 'see' what she is describing. This book was very readable; it read like a work of fiction which added to the enjoyability of the story. Her discussions of life in Ukraine appealed to me the most and it saddened me that Ukraine is still dealing with many of the issues she mentioned were occuring there over 20 years ago. She also discusses events in Bosnia; the section on Bosnia was so heart-breaking. I feel like the war in Bosnia is kind of forgotten and I was glad that it was mentioned in great detail. I was also very intrigued by the people she met. Many of the people she encountered seemed so kind and friendly and it seemed that Ms. Viets found friends wherever she went. She mentioned that she wondered if people back home would be as friendly to strangers and I kind of have to wonder the same thing.
Picnic at the Iron Curtain is a thoroughly enjoyable read that I would recommend to anyone. 4 stars.