‘The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe’ is a very good subtitle. But it is a difficult subject to write about. ‘Eastern Europe’ is a misleading geographical expression, given meaning solely by whichever empire rules over it; the only memorable line in Marci Shore’s book is the first: ‘Eastern Europe is special. It is Europe, only more so.’ To write about the region properly, you would have to know five or six languages and six or seven different histories, and then you would have to turn the intractable material and unpronounceable names into a readable book. There are some classics on Austria-Hungary, while Hugh Seton-Watson managed a superb little history of interwar eastern Europe. We could do with an equivalent for the post-Soviet period. The Taste of Ashes is not it.
The initial revolutions of 1989 were very good theatre. Who can forget the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the face of Romania’s Elena Ceauşescu as she was led out in her fur coat, after a sentence from a kangaroo court, to be shot? (She said, ‘How can you do