Literary roundup: Schulz, suffering and soccer in Europe’s borderlands

This year not only will Poland and Ukraine co-host the UEFA European Football Championship, they will also collectively celebrate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Bruno Schulz. This isn’t just a friendly gesture – both countries have some claim on the brilliant writer as his Galician hometown of Drohobycz is in today’s Ukraine and he wrote in Polish (unlike other Galician-born writers like Joseph Roth, who wrote in German, or others who chose Yiddish).

The idea was presented to both the Polish and Ukrainian parliaments, with plans for events, the establishing of a museum in today’s Drohobych (Дрогóбич) and, of course, TV shows and the obligatory honorary stamps.

This shared Schulz promotion is worlds away from the controversy over where some of Schulz’s artwork belonged, with all sides baring their teeth until the work was whisked away to Yad Vashem.

Hopefully the respective parliaments will approve the proposals and someone from Ukraine will send me a letter (assuming people still write those) adorned with Schulz’s face.

Memoirs from a vanished world

At The Browser, Anne Applebaum has chosen five memoirs that come from similarly contested and difficult to define borderlands like Schulz and Joseph Roth came from. “These books are all from a part of the world which has always fascinated me: The region where borders and regimes change very frequently,” Applebaum said.

Her selections include Miłosz’s The Captive Mind, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński’s A World Apart, Sándor Márai’s A Memoir of Hungary, Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear and Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory.

Personally, I would have chosen Aleksander Wat’s My Century as well as Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned. Koestler is another deserving candidate as well.

Crossing the divide

New Eastern Europe has re-issued an essay by Austrian writer Martin Pollack about continued misunderstanding and misapprehensions held by Western Europeans in regard to their Eastern neighbors. While he is right in pointing out condescending attitudes toward the generic “Eastern Europe,” which doesn’t really exist, that same condescension can be found within the region, so that the insults a German might cast on the Czechs more or less repeats itself in Czech insults to Ukrainians, like an echo.

Euro 2012 might go a long way towards blunting the sense of difference between Europe’s east and west, and not because thousands of tourists will come to Poland and Ukraine and realize that people are the same all over. Instead the Western stereotype of Eastern Europeans as vodka-swilling alcoholics will come face to face with Polish and Ukrainians seeing masses of drunk football hooligans and realizing, sadly, that people are the same all over.

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