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Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia [Hardcover]

Max Egremont
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Jun 2011
No country embodied the turbulence of twentieth century Europe more dramatically than East Prussia. The scene of Stalin's ‘terrible revenge’, it was carved up between Poland and the USSR after World War II – and passed abruptly into history. Many of its refugees are still alive and with astonishing stories to tell. Max Egremont’s first travels to the old East Prussia took him to a post-communist desert. But at the turn of the twenty-first century he found a very different land: a Kaliningrad caught up in the materialism of Putin’s Russia, and across the border, a northern Poland that had become part of the European Union. He found himself on the borders of a new Europe. Forgotten Land evokes an often beautiful landscape of ghosts, a region rich in culture and tradition, famously military, artistically fertile, haunted by tragedy and memories of greatness. Travelling to the birthplace of Kant, and going on to meet survivors from the great families of East Prussia, Max Egremont has written a personal and profoundly moving book: an account that combines atmosphere, history and travel in an evocative meditation on identity and the passing of time.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (3 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330456598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330456593
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 233,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Max Egremont has been fascinated by this lost world and all its contradictions for years and his new book mixes a personal quest with the strange history of the place…Represents the very best form of travel writing' --Anthony Beevor- Mail on Sunday

About the Author

Max Egremont was born in 1948 and studied Modern History at Oxford University. As well as four novels, he is the author of The Cousins and Balfour: A Life of James Arthur Balfour. His official biography of Siegfried Sassoon was published in 2005 to wide acclaim. Max Egremont lives in West Sussex with his wife and four children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
For those of us who have grown up in the westernmost parts of Europe, it is completely impossible to imagine how it feels for people literally to find their country has disappeared off the map, to be driven from their land and see a foreign nation occupy their homes. Over the last century perhaps nowhere in Europe has this been more traumatically experienced than in East Prussia, which abruptly ceased to exist at the end of WWII, when Britain and the United States agreed to Stalin's demand that this territory should become a spoil of war.

Two-thirds of East Prussia were absorbed by Poland and the remaining northern third became a new region of Russia, to be renamed as Kaliningrad, after a senior Russian political figure (who died without ever setting foot there). For many years, Kaliningrad was a closed region - off-limits to all foreigners (except favoured anti-Western "freedom fighters" and their ilk) and most Russians, for the region was turned into a huge military base - the headquarters of the Soviet Baltic Fleet and home to hundreds of thousands of troops occupying the closest Russian territory to NATO forces, immediately behind the Warsaw Pact frontline.

And then everything changed. The Soviet Union collapsed and, with the independence of the Baltic States and Belarus from the former USSR, Kaliningrad found itself cut off from the Russian mainland, separated from the motherland by two foreign countries, whichever route (other than by air) people chose to take. In the early 1990s the future of Kaliningrad became a hot topic for western and, indeed, Russian analysts, researchers, diplomats, politicians and others.
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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
In Forgotten Land, Max Egremont describes his travels among the old lands of East Prussia, bringing to the task a deep knowledge of modern history and the proficiency of an experienced writer. The book is a mixture of history, travel-writing and personal interviews, a fascinating mix which builds up a compelling picture of these lands and the changes that the last couple of centuries, particularly the post-Second World War settlement, have brought to them.

For after the Second World War, the lands of East Prussia were parcelled out between Russia and Poland. Those of the German population who could, fled westwards in the face of the retributive zeal of the advancing Russian troops. Many others were recruited as forced labour by the Russians and found themselves in the Gulag system. Towns and cities were renamed, gravestones were used as paving stones and so far as was possible, all traces of German residency were obliterated.

While the lands of East Prussia have buried their German past, it is perhaps Kaliningrad which shows the most dramatic change since it was the German city-port of Königsberg. With the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989 the territory around Kaliningrad has been part of the Russian Federation but has had no land connection to the rest of Russia. When Max Egremont visited it in 1992 he found it "a parody of Soviet planning, with cracked concrete, cratered streets, people bend against the cold and wet . . .". In the post-Soviet age he finds "black limousines and dark-suited security guards . . . wait outside the Kaliningrad clubs, restaurants and hotels; the show of money mocks any idea of communism".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thin fare 27 May 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
About thirty years ago I had the pleasure of dining with a striking lady from an East Prussian 'Junker' family who related, over dinner what had happened to them in 1945. This very dignified lady told the story with tears running down her cheeks - an event that I suspect I shall never forget. I therefore welcomed the chance to understand what it was that she had lost and how.

I am reasonably familiar with what happened in East Prussia during the 20th century but there is little in English specifically on the subject so I was very interested in Mr Egremont's take on it. The answer for me was really not very much. He appeared to have rifled through a few books in German and had had some interviews and these were regurgitated at considerable length and in a rather confusing manner. When some of the characters appeared yet again to say, yet again, not very much - it was just a little irritating.

We kept on being told about the great East Prussian families but actually focused on just three of them, and then on the musings of a few individuals within them. The result was an extremely partial picture. The middle classes who were the backbone of the towns were almost non-existant in the narrative. If Kant came up once he came up a hundred times. There was almost no narrative of how East Prussia had evolved, or on the strange disconnectedness caused by its separation from the rest of Germany between the wars. There was for me little evocation of what it had all been like. So much more could have been done with the subject.

Well done Mr Egremont for tackling the subject, but I am afraid that poor editing and a paucity of sources have let you down.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Forgotten Land
A very interesting account and description of the country where my father-in- law grew up, and which we now want to visit.
Published 1 month ago by Rosemary Holstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book about the little written about tragic destruction and...
A well written history,about the destruction of a people,and a way of life for millions of Germans,as Stalin annexed East Prussia at the end of the war,together Bohemia,and the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars A Best Forgotten Land
This readable book makes no claim to be objective - it isn't - and few claims as to historical objectivity. Read more
Published 5 months ago by F. Julius
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd, personal history
This is an odd, personal history full of anecdote and atmosphere. It takes a mixed approach of focusing on historic individuals' lives to tell the marginalised history of this lost... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Charlie Beckett
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, difficult to download
Fascinating history of a haunted area of Europe ,sadly forgotten. The book makes me keen to visit this mysterious landscape.
Published 7 months ago by sheila hornshaw elizabeth hornshaw
3.0 out of 5 stars A very bad start
You immediately know you are in trouble when the author says on page 7 that Luneburg is, "about twenty miles or so inland from the Baltic coast... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Kenneth Parkes
1.0 out of 5 stars Incompetent Bookseller
Having waited almost three weeks for this book to arrive, the book that eventually came is a US edition and not a UK first as described and illustrated. Read more
Published 12 months ago by
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
Really brings to life the importance of this area in the past and for the future. I will be off to Kaliningrad as soon as I can!
Published 14 months ago by C. Long
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking
Despite having German contacts and also having a good knowledge of the broad sweep of German history, (or maybe because of those aspects) I found this to be a riveting book,... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Richard Sewell
4.0 out of 5 stars History of East Prussia
A superb recounting of that part of Germwny which is now Poland + Russia. It emphasises the feelings of the German people who either left or were forced out by the war on the... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Dr. J. A. K. Davies
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