Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Art from Artifice

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Art from Artifice

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "East-Central European Literatures Twenty Years After" by Michael Henry Helm, Peter Sherwood, Kristin Vitalich, et al., in East European Politics and Societies, Fall 2009.

"IT'S DAMNED DIFFICULT TO tell a lie if you don't know the truth" Hungarian novelist Peter Esterhazy writes in Celestial Harmonies (2004). Esterhazy's "stunned discovery that his father had acted as an informant under Hungarian Stalinism," says Peter Sherwood of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, inspired him to produce "perhaps the most distinguished work of art so far from Central and Eastern Europe's still-ongoing process of coming to terms with its communist past."

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the work of the region's writers underscores, as Michael Henry Heim of the University of California, Los Angeles, points out, how they "entered on their new life from a different point of departure" Introducing a dozen short surveys of the literary scene in East European Politics and Societies, he writes that "it would be a mistake to assume, as many assumed during the Cold War; that the region's writers are "a kind of indistinguishable gray mass."

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, for instance, the perspectives of many contemporary writers have been as fractured as the alliances in that war-ravaged area. Commentator Kristin Vitalich, of the University of Washington, observes that "many artists felt compelled to set aside their traditional genres and professional roles to document the dramatic changes they were witnessing." Erstwhile writers of fiction "produced a variety of creative nonfiction accounts of life in Sarajevo during the siege," she writes, and a number of others "fashioned poetry that contemplated both the personal and collective experience of war" Many were forced to choose sides; novelist Ivan Aralica in Croatia came to be viewed as a mouthpiece for the repressive regime of Franjo Tudjman, while Dubravka Ugresic was branded a traitor by the press and forced to go into exile.

In the Czech Republic, where cultural leaders became the de facto vanguard of the Velvet Revolution, the most pressing task for the country's writers in the early 1990s was to "recover its lost chapters, to publish works that had been previously banned or had appeared only in samizdat or exile" writes Harvard's Jonathan Bolton. …

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