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Stalin's Nose: Across the Face of Europe (A Saturday Night Book)

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Winston the pig fell into Aunt Zita's life when he dropped onto her husband's head and killed him dead. It was a distressing end to a distinguished life of spying for the U.S.S.R. After the funeral Zita, a faded Austrian aristocrat and vivacious eccentric, refuses to remain at home in East Germany. Instead she hijacks her nephew Rory and, with Winston in tow, sets out on o Winston the pig fell into Aunt Zita's life when he dropped onto her husband's head and killed him dead. It was a distressing end to a distinguished life of spying for the U.S.S.R. After the funeral Zita, a faded Austrian aristocrat and vivacious eccentric, refuses to remain at home in East Germany. Instead she hijacks her nephew Rory and, with Winston in tow, sets out on one last ride. Austrians have extended families, their lineage is Europe's history and Zita has decided to rediscover hers. In a rattling Trabant the threesome puff and wheeze across the continent, following the threads of memory Zita's remarkable east European relations - the angel of Prague, the Hungarian grave digger who had buried Stalin's nose, a dying Romanian propagandist - help tie together the loose ends of her life. The travelers picnic at Auschwitz. They meet Lenin's embalmer. They visit the impoverished Czech town where the sewers run with jewels. Everywhere they learn what life had truly been like under totalitarian rule. They hear a torrent of life tales, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, all enriched with the joy of telling after decades of enforced silence. Humorous and black, touched with the surreal and the farcical, Stalin's Nose is a true and exceptionally vivid story of a journey from the Baltic to the Black Sea, between Berlin and Moscow, through an eastern Europe divested of fear and free to face the past.


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Winston the pig fell into Aunt Zita's life when he dropped onto her husband's head and killed him dead. It was a distressing end to a distinguished life of spying for the U.S.S.R. After the funeral Zita, a faded Austrian aristocrat and vivacious eccentric, refuses to remain at home in East Germany. Instead she hijacks her nephew Rory and, with Winston in tow, sets out on o Winston the pig fell into Aunt Zita's life when he dropped onto her husband's head and killed him dead. It was a distressing end to a distinguished life of spying for the U.S.S.R. After the funeral Zita, a faded Austrian aristocrat and vivacious eccentric, refuses to remain at home in East Germany. Instead she hijacks her nephew Rory and, with Winston in tow, sets out on one last ride. Austrians have extended families, their lineage is Europe's history and Zita has decided to rediscover hers. In a rattling Trabant the threesome puff and wheeze across the continent, following the threads of memory Zita's remarkable east European relations - the angel of Prague, the Hungarian grave digger who had buried Stalin's nose, a dying Romanian propagandist - help tie together the loose ends of her life. The travelers picnic at Auschwitz. They meet Lenin's embalmer. They visit the impoverished Czech town where the sewers run with jewels. Everywhere they learn what life had truly been like under totalitarian rule. They hear a torrent of life tales, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, all enriched with the joy of telling after decades of enforced silence. Humorous and black, touched with the surreal and the farcical, Stalin's Nose is a true and exceptionally vivid story of a journey from the Baltic to the Black Sea, between Berlin and Moscow, through an eastern Europe divested of fear and free to face the past.

30 review for Stalin's Nose: Across the Face of Europe (A Saturday Night Book)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk

    I am informed that this is "travel writing" and in his preface Colin Thubron tells me that this an innovative piece of travel literature breaking new ground by being a blend of fiction and fact.... Excuse me.... am I missing something here? This is a work of fiction in which the hero, his aunt and her pig travel through Eastern Europe at the time of the great changes that took place when the Berlin Wall came down. So it's fiction set in a real time and real places... Doesn't a lot of literature I am informed that this is "travel writing" and in his preface Colin Thubron tells me that this an innovative piece of travel literature breaking new ground by being a blend of fiction and fact.... Excuse me.... am I missing something here? This is a work of fiction in which the hero, his aunt and her pig travel through Eastern Europe at the time of the great changes that took place when the Berlin Wall came down. So it's fiction set in a real time and real places... Doesn't a lot of literature fall into this category? So it's a story and once you realise that this isn't really a piece of travel writing, since there are very few bits where we get a description of the place, then what you find you have is a very amusing story with a fascinating cast of dysfunctional and woe-begotten characters. Our hero (we never learn his name but it sure as hell ISN'T Rory) gets a call from his rather domineering Aunt Zita to inform him that his Uncle Peter (a former key player in the Soviet takeover of the Eastern Block) has been killed by his pet pig, Winston, who fell on him. Apparently this wouldn't have happened if they hadn't taken the wall down in the first place. Winston has run off with Zita's dentures and mislaid them but you can, apparently get good replacements in Budapest! Zita then railroads her nephew into a road trip visiting friends and relatives on the way. Many of these friends and relatives turn out to be former Communists or collaborators - or just plain dysfunctional individuals, beginning to adjust to a post-Communist world itself adjusting to new, as yet undetermined, circumstances. The whole is a genuinely amusing but also thought-provoking story. Whist MacLean doesn't spend a great deal of time describing places he does give us a sort of superficial snapshot of the great changes taking place by concentrating on his characters. In Czechoslovakia the remains of dead heroes, secretly buried, are being disinterred, as is the real history of the Communist era. In Hungary adjustments are also taking place in an atmosphere of revelation. Poland is seen as heavy with history and the spirit of resistance, whilst Romania is just the same old story but with different labels. Russia is entering the era of the great disillusion. Poverty abounds, alcohol flows. Somewhere in there one can hear the greasing of palms. MacLean does a super job of helping us see that process of change, coming to terms with the truth, expressing resentment or relief and, of course, survival. Reading this is like entering the dark ages of Modern History and there are very few books that I know of that bring this brief period to life (I'm thinking here of that other great bit of writing, Anne Applebaum's "Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe"). ...And it's amusing as well as serious. My hero is Winston, the pig. He sleeps his way across this era of change sleeping in the back of the Trabant, drinking beer and occasionally causing mayhem - I bet he's a Polish pig! Good old Winston.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Daren

    With the big praise on the cover (John Le Carre, William Dalrymple, Jan Morris, The Times etc) I guess I expected more. Fictionalised travel - ie a story woven into characters in the cities and towns along the route of travel - rather than actual travel. Not sure it was for me.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Spybrary Podcast Podcast

    A wonderful time capsule of life in Eastern Europe in 1990, shortly after the Wall came down. I enjoyed how the author focused on ordinary people with interesting pasts. Not too heavy though the prose on occasion was a bit pretentious for me. I am intrigued to read his other books though.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane Fordham

    I have had this book on my bookshelf for sometime and have been looking forward to getting started on it. It should have been really good, It is the story of the author and his aunt from West Berlin. In the aftermath of the fall of the wall they set off on a road trip in an old Trabant. En route they meet lots of long lost relatives a friends who tell their stories. A perfect recipe. I expected to find this informative, funny and very readable, However I found the writing style very cumbersome a I have had this book on my bookshelf for sometime and have been looking forward to getting started on it. It should have been really good, It is the story of the author and his aunt from West Berlin. In the aftermath of the fall of the wall they set off on a road trip in an old Trabant. En route they meet lots of long lost relatives a friends who tell their stories. A perfect recipe. I expected to find this informative, funny and very readable, However I found the writing style very cumbersome and a little irritating. I gave up afte 3 chapters.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Velvetink

    loving this so far. Loved it. Here is the author. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvjMAD... loving this so far. Loved it. Here is the author. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvjMAD...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris Wares

    I read this after having read Pravda Ha Ha, which was written as a sort of sequel 30 years later. Like Pravda Haha he travels around Eastern Europe, only this time in an old Trabant just after the fall of the Berlin Wall accompanied by his elderly aunt Zita, Winston the pig and an assortment of others. It paints an intriguing picture of post-communist Eastern Europe with the added twist that his family were once Habsburg royalty and sat on both sides of the fence during the totalitarian C20th. Hi I read this after having read Pravda Ha Ha, which was written as a sort of sequel 30 years later. Like Pravda Haha he travels around Eastern Europe, only this time in an old Trabant just after the fall of the Berlin Wall accompanied by his elderly aunt Zita, Winston the pig and an assortment of others. It paints an intriguing picture of post-communist Eastern Europe with the added twist that his family were once Habsburg royalty and sat on both sides of the fence during the totalitarian C20th. His uncle Oto signed up to be a Nazi SS guard at Auschwitz and his aunt married a Russian KGB agent. Not the sort of family one typically fesses up to! It’s difficult to know how much of what he writes can be believed but it makes for a good read

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peter Groves

    A strange but generally enjoyable read. There is some terrible grammar, which to me detracts from the pleasure of reading a book and makes me wonder what the editors were doing. The story is, frankly, often baffling though usually very amusing. I did find that I frequently lost track of what was happening, and there are definitely a lot of rather random sentences scattered through the text of which it's hard to make sense. But overall I thought it was mostly good fun, though it has a pronounced A strange but generally enjoyable read. There is some terrible grammar, which to me detracts from the pleasure of reading a book and makes me wonder what the editors were doing. The story is, frankly, often baffling though usually very amusing. I did find that I frequently lost track of what was happening, and there are definitely a lot of rather random sentences scattered through the text of which it's hard to make sense. But overall I thought it was mostly good fun, though it has a pronounced dark side too.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scott Head

    A brilliant travel guide, a chilling history, a collection of heartfelt memoirs, a dire political warning, and an epitaph to a socialist world - told by those who lived it, believed it, were ground to dust by it, and came to regret it. This is by far one of the best books of recent memory. Eastern Europe comes alive, too frighteningly well, in the pages of this most lovely travel diary. People flirting with today’s version of socialism would be wise to hear the thoughts of those who lived it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Macdonald

    Amusing journey around a revival Eastern Europe Witty, wry and slightly wonderful, this tale captures the essence of a Europe liberated from a decomposed Communism but haunted by its past. Well-known written, sometimes funny but sometimes sad, this novel is an enchanting look at the beginning of change.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julie Watson

    Clever, informative and black-humored account of a journey across central and eastern Europe. A detailed exploration of the impact of the historical upheavals of the twentieth century on the countries and their people. Cleverly and wittily presented through the eyes of the author's relatives encountered en route, Oh and Winston, the pig... Clever, informative and black-humored account of a journey across central and eastern Europe. A detailed exploration of the impact of the historical upheavals of the twentieth century on the countries and their people. Cleverly and wittily presented through the eyes of the author's relatives encountered en route, Oh and Winston, the pig...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angelique

    After about 20 boring pages, I've given up. It sounds very interesting, but it just isn't compelling enough. It was not enjoyable to read...so I put it down. Which is hard for me. After about 20 boring pages, I've given up. It sounds very interesting, but it just isn't compelling enough. It was not enjoyable to read...so I put it down. Which is hard for me.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Lost its momentum towards the end.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Rory MacLean's 1992 travels around the Eastern Bloc,hot on the tailwind of the momentous events of 1989 & the 'fall of the wall' & 'the drawing-back of the iron curtain' make an engrossing,entertaining & often black-humourous tour of the darkest areas of the horrific Communist(whatever that meant!) Eastern Bloc. From its opening chapter,where the ex-KGB agent,Peter,is killed(off-screen,as it were)by a falling pig,Winston (he was in a tree!) the tone of black satire is set.Rory MacLean,the narrato Rory MacLean's 1992 travels around the Eastern Bloc,hot on the tailwind of the momentous events of 1989 & the 'fall of the wall' & 'the drawing-back of the iron curtain' make an engrossing,entertaining & often black-humourous tour of the darkest areas of the horrific Communist(whatever that meant!) Eastern Bloc. From its opening chapter,where the ex-KGB agent,Peter,is killed(off-screen,as it were)by a falling pig,Winston (he was in a tree!) the tone of black satire is set.Rory MacLean,the narrator,& his Aunt Zita (Peter's lovelorn widow) & her pet pig are bundled-up in a state-of-the-art Trabant on a journey,ostensibly, to Budapest for quality dental treatment.But as we follow them through Germany,Czechoslovakia,Hungary & on to Romania,we are in for a potent rough-ride mix of history,ancient & modern; of politics,communist & fascist; of culture,medieval & pseudo-modern (artificially created by state apparatchiks); and of real human tragedies,dealt with in a truly memorable way.(The Jewish cemetery-keeper who is the only Jew still remaining in his town to bury,as all the other Jews were murdered or driven-away during the Holocaust). Each of the countries travered,(now nominally 'free'), bleed their tragic histories all over MacLean's deadpan(but often morbidly amusing) recitation of cruelty,intolerance & mass-murder,under the malign influence of Lenin & Stalin,(whose nose appears briefly!)& the Soviet Union.Many of the characters that MacLean delineates in a few dozen words will remain in your memory,I assure you! I would recommend this book to any reader with more than a passing interest in Eastern Europe.I learned more about the history of geographically ill-favoured Poland,the tragic fate of brave Hungarians in 1956,& the abject state of hopeless Romania than I had previously garnered from any number of BBC documentaries & reports in the apologist left-wing press.The whole Communist Bloc was a monstrsity,an inhumane experiment in political cynicism,a blot on European history....I could go on! Read this book,& learn; There but for the grace...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kriegslok

    In his preface to the 2009 edition Colin Thubron suggests that Rory Maclean may have strayed from the factual into the realms of the surreal and fantastic in his journal of a road/rail trip through the Central/Eastern Europe of the early 90s. As someone who personallyt spent as much of the 90s as I could travelling in the same region I can only assume That Mr Thubron never travelled there during that period or if he did he did so in a cocoon or with his eyes closed. There was something unique in In his preface to the 2009 edition Colin Thubron suggests that Rory Maclean may have strayed from the factual into the realms of the surreal and fantastic in his journal of a road/rail trip through the Central/Eastern Europe of the early 90s. As someone who personallyt spent as much of the 90s as I could travelling in the same region I can only assume That Mr Thubron never travelled there during that period or if he did he did so in a cocoon or with his eyes closed. There was something unique in the quirkiness and bizzareness of the region at that time emerging as it was from one social system into one under unrelenting attack of a neo-colonial, neo-liberal system which the fresh born peoples of the region had no time to prepare themselves fior and which ensured that no experimenting with alternative possible social systems could possibly derail the return of the region to the fold of the west. Maclean captures perfectly a period of upheaval, tradgedy, misery and joy. He shows almost by accident how populations are generally little more than flotsam tossed about on a political sea in which they sinply try to survivie, reproduce and die happy as "isms" pull and push peoples and families together and apart. The only creature to emerge clean from the book is Winston the pig and that is with a minor charge of accidental manslaughter against him. I for one have no trouble accepting every word as gospel. I read this book following some of Macleans journey and even now some twenty years on it is nice to see the surrealism that makes this part of Europe so special is clinging on in the face of the gloablisation of blandness.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This was the first piece of travel writing I've read, and it took me quite a while to adjust to its style, especially in how it played with fact and fiction. I was not expecting it and quite a few times I would forget that I wasn't reading a novel, because, for me, it really did read like fiction. I really liked the idea behind the book- taking a journey 'of memory' across Eastern Europe, and it's very telling of the immediate post-communist moment in Europe, however, while I was actually readin This was the first piece of travel writing I've read, and it took me quite a while to adjust to its style, especially in how it played with fact and fiction. I was not expecting it and quite a few times I would forget that I wasn't reading a novel, because, for me, it really did read like fiction. I really liked the idea behind the book- taking a journey 'of memory' across Eastern Europe, and it's very telling of the immediate post-communist moment in Europe, however, while I was actually reading it I found it hard to get in to and quite hard to follow. I particularly enjoyed reading about Zita, especially in how she tries to (or fails to) come to terms with her past, which becomes more difficult for her as the book progresses and it is frequently brought to bear on her present. However, the final 'conclusion' of the book of collective guilt, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about. I definitely think there is a responsibility to memory of the past (and particularly of difficult moments in history). There is a responsibility to remember, and also to be critical about how we remember such moments, but whether you can say someone born (after world war ii, for example) can be said to be 'collectively responsible' for what happened in that time, I'm more unsure about. I mean these questions don't have simple answers, and I'm not sure they're even answerable questions anyway, but I suppose this book was good in putting these ideas forward for reflection. Overall then, I really liked the concept of this book, and the issues and questions it bought up are useful to reflect upon, however, as an actual reading experience, I enjoyed it much less.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mary Warnement

    How do you confront learning a loved ones you knew as a gentle gardener was a bigwig in the KGB? You travel across Eastern Europe with your Aunt Zita, his wife, and her pig dubbed Winston whose fall from a tree broke your uncle's neck. That description of circumstances sets up what becomes a series of surreal encounters with distant family, starting with strapping Zita's estranged sister's husband's coffin to the top of your faulty Trabant and taking it to be buried. The endpapers show their rou How do you confront learning a loved ones you knew as a gentle gardener was a bigwig in the KGB? You travel across Eastern Europe with your Aunt Zita, his wife, and her pig dubbed Winston whose fall from a tree broke your uncle's neck. That description of circumstances sets up what becomes a series of surreal encounters with distant family, starting with strapping Zita's estranged sister's husband's coffin to the top of your faulty Trabant and taking it to be buried. The endpapers show their route on a map, a device for which I am a sucker. I enjoyed this book and MacLean's sometimes obscure historical digressions. (Are we talking about a historical figure from 5 centuries ago or the current cousin? You'd only be sure a few pages later.) Some of his metaphors seem heavy-handed when described out of context (for example the fish taken to the shore who sees only what he always saw, his own reflect in a bowl--this as we approached Russia, see page 206) but worked well in his narrative. You learn why it's called Stalin's Nose on page 116, and the fate of said nose on page 164. I'm glad I read this. MacLean has written a new book about Berlin. I'm not sure this helps me decide whether to buy it for myself, which is why I first grabbed. It helps me manage my expectations, but he wrote this 25 years ago. His abrupt ending left me wondering, I'll have to see if I can find out what happened to Zita. I started this and then set it aside for three weeks.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Hill

    A very peculiar book indeed. This attempted to combine fiction and fact in order to portray the condition of post-Communism Eastern Europe. The obviously fictional elements such as travelling with a pig seemed to be an attempt to portray the societies as farcical but this didn't really work for me. It would have been better to describe actual experience to illustrate the bizarre and frustrating aspects of life met by the traveller. The result was that MacLean comes across as a poor man's PG Wode A very peculiar book indeed. This attempted to combine fiction and fact in order to portray the condition of post-Communism Eastern Europe. The obviously fictional elements such as travelling with a pig seemed to be an attempt to portray the societies as farcical but this didn't really work for me. It would have been better to describe actual experience to illustrate the bizarre and frustrating aspects of life met by the traveller. The result was that MacLean comes across as a poor man's PG Wodehouse. On the positive side the author did come across as being clued up on Eastern European History so if you are unfamiliar with the region you will learn a fair amount about 20th century events. There were some great moments such as an observation that Austrians have 'perfected the great deception: that Beethoven was an Austrian and Hitler a German. In fact the reverse is true,' On the whole, however, this wasn't very satisfying. Although in places, such as the section on Dresden the account rang true there was often a lack of telling detail which left me wondering whether the author had visited half of the places he wrote about. If you want to read a good travelogue on the former Eastern Bloc then Vitali Vitaliev's 'Borders Up' is vastly superior, being both wittier and benefiting from an insider's knowledge and understanding.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    This book describes a trip taken by the author, his aunt and her pig a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They drive through some of the countries that have just been freed from Communism in her old Trabant. What started off as a funny book is in fact informative and interesting in the descriptions of life under Soviet influence, and the people who suffered through it, as well as the point of view of his aunt, who had been married to a Communist agent. Although it has been only 20 years This book describes a trip taken by the author, his aunt and her pig a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They drive through some of the countries that have just been freed from Communism in her old Trabant. What started off as a funny book is in fact informative and interesting in the descriptions of life under Soviet influence, and the people who suffered through it, as well as the point of view of his aunt, who had been married to a Communist agent. Although it has been only 20 years, it seems far away already. This book is a good reminder of our recent history.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    This book is a bit dated since the travels in it occur in the 1990s, but it is interesting nevertheless. The author gives the reader some very good insights into how people who lived under the Communist regimes were beginning to make the transition to other forms of government rule. This may sound like a dull book, but it is not dull at all. The asuthor tends to see both the humor in people's thoughts, attitudes and practices as well as the poignant. This book is a bit dated since the travels in it occur in the 1990s, but it is interesting nevertheless. The author gives the reader some very good insights into how people who lived under the Communist regimes were beginning to make the transition to other forms of government rule. This may sound like a dull book, but it is not dull at all. The asuthor tends to see both the humor in people's thoughts, attitudes and practices as well as the poignant.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Magdalena Wajda

    An account of travel across Eastern Europe in the spring of 1990, just after the Wall came down. Bitter-sweet, funny, poignant, nostalgic - all of this together. An excellent picture of the paradoxes of the countries in the course of changing their political system and trying to come to terms with their past.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    Granda sent this book to me during lockdown after having a conversation about fall of communism and the Soviet Union etc. Was a bit of a weird story and I don’t think I’m a massive fan of travel writing, but the history was very interesting and I learnt a lot. Nice to read something out of my comfort zone though.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Major

    Difficult to follow, difficult to accept, and hard to swallow in places I struggled with it too often to really enjoy it. Thubron and Dalrymple clearly loved it, so perhaps I am missing something. Don't say you weren't warned, however! Difficult to follow, difficult to accept, and hard to swallow in places I struggled with it too often to really enjoy it. Thubron and Dalrymple clearly loved it, so perhaps I am missing something. Don't say you weren't warned, however!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laura JC

    Only now do I know that the author is a travel writer. I read the book, thinking it was more of a memoir. I understand more about the book now, having read other readers' reviews. It was interesting to read personalized observations of the Communist years and how things had changed afterwards. Only now do I know that the author is a travel writer. I read the book, thinking it was more of a memoir. I understand more about the book now, having read other readers' reviews. It was interesting to read personalized observations of the Communist years and how things had changed afterwards.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rambles

    Just a wonderful travel book. If you loved old style eastern Europe, I urge you to read it, you'll be laughing out loud. Just a wonderful travel book. If you loved old style eastern Europe, I urge you to read it, you'll be laughing out loud.

  25. 4 out of 5

    james

    "Travels With My Aunt" meets "Green Acres" meets "Burnt by the Sun." "Travels With My Aunt" meets "Green Acres" meets "Burnt by the Sun."

  26. 4 out of 5

    B

    914.704 A nephew travels around what was the Eastern Block with his aunt. Funny situations but historical at this point.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mb_presents

    it's a very confusing yet funny and interesting tale mixed with many true historic facts. i liked it even though i'm still a little confused about certain things in the story it's a very confusing yet funny and interesting tale mixed with many true historic facts. i liked it even though i'm still a little confused about certain things in the story

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jaimon

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Harris

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sahar Dowlatshahi

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