Eva Hoffman’s Extraordinary Exit into History takes us from the Baltic to the Black Sea. From Poland, we travel through Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. But the authoress is no hardy traveller. She tours in comfort wherever possible and confines herself to large cities. What unfolds is an account of her conversations with leading intellectuals, dissidents, taxi drivers, gypsies, trades union activists and ‘Them’ – the old-guard Communists. Mercifully, we are spared the look-what-these-foreigners-get- up-to tack since she prefers to cast herself not so much as a key player but as a detached narrator.
We meet Pavel, a disenchanted Romanian Communist who shared a prison cell with Nicolae Ceausescu in 1941. Pavel took an instant dislike to Ceausescu. Strangely, he compares his relationship to Ceausescu in prison with that of a eunuch to an Asian Emperor. ‘Ceausescu’s contempt worked by the same mechanism.’ It