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Stalin's Nose: Across the Face of Europe Paperback – 29 Mar 1993

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (29 Mar. 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006545173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006545170
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 12.6 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 848,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rory MacLean is one of Britain's most expressive and adventurous travel writers. His ten books, including UK best-sellers 'Stalin's Nose' and 'Under the Dragon', have challenged and invigorated creative non-fiction writing, and - according to the late John Fowles - are among works that 'marvellously explain why literature still lives'. He has won awards from the Canada Council and the Arts Council of England as well as a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, and was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary prize. He has written and presented over 50 BBC radio programmes and worked on movies with Marlene Dietrich and David Bowie. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Rory divides his time between Berlin, London and Dorset.

Product Description

From the Back Cover

An exceptionally vivid story of a journey from the Baltic to the Black Sea, between Berlin and Moscow, through an eastern Europe divested of fear and free to face its past.

"The wittiest, most surreal travel writing of recent years"

"With the unlikely cast of a Tamworth pig, a coffin, two elderly aunts and a battered Trabant, Rory MacLean creates a fantastic tableau that embraces the horrors, betrayals and ironies of modern East European history. 'Stalin's Nose' is a dark, sardonic and brilliant book which grows in stature with every page"

"The farce with which Rory MacLean often clothes his narrative is a metaphor for the much blacker and indeed surreal comedy of the Communist years. As an allegory it is powerful and frequently moving. As a tale it is tremendous fun"

"A Gogolesque tour in a Trabant"

"It is a painful book of bitter old ages, of lives which have had their meanings repeatedly declared void. It is very hard and very good"

About the Author

Rory MacLean was born in Vancouver and has lived in Toronto, London, Berlin, Italy and the Hebrides. He trained as a screenwriter, but during the premiere of his last feature film his mother fell asleep and his girlfriend ran off with the financier. Not surprisingly, he took a holiday. He returned with the manuscript of ‘Stalin’s Nose’, which won the Yorkshire Post’s Best First Work prize. ‘The most extraordinary debut in travel writing since “In Patagonia”,’ wrote reviewer William Dalrymple.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Aug. 2001
Format: Paperback
The collapse of Communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s might seem a grim subject for a travelogue and, of course, it is. Stalin 's Nose by Rory MacLean skilfully uses a journey across the former Eastern Bloc in 1989 to provide some insights into what the changes might mean for the people affected.
The book is best described as a black comedy. Rory MacLean's uncle, a former Soviet spy, has died and MacLean visits his widowed aunt Zita at their retirement home in Potsdam before embarking on his epic journey. What he does not reckon with is the aunt's determination to accompany him in order to visit various relatives and friends in Germany, Czechoslovakia (as it was then), Hungary, Poland, Romania and finally Moscow. Amongst other things, she wishes to visit Budapest to obtain new false teeth to replace those stolen by her pet Tamworth pig, Winston - which also caused the death of MacLean's uncle by falling on him from a tree. The aunt, as well as having been married to a Communist, had a brother who served in the SS during World War II. Despite a feisty exterior, Zita finds the journey difficult and ultimately cathartic.
They make the trip in an old and fragile Trabant (with 'go faster' stripes), which eventually disappears into a pothole on the road out of Bucharest. Winston comes with them at Zita's insistence and survives the attentions of various police forces and other people who envisage him as their next meal or as the starting point for their next business. The author's other elderly aunt and a coffin also occupy the Trabant at various points.
The main theme of the book is the beginnings of the slow emergence from the destruction caused by World War II and then forty years of domination by the Soviet Union. These two things were, of course, linked.
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This - one of Rory Maclean's early travel writings - is perhaps less of a travel piece than one may expect, having more to do with a family history, stretched across countries and times. It is nevertheless an excellent portrait of a region and of issues it faced in the early 1990s - much less optimistic and much less resolved than the mood in the West at the time had one believe.

Starting the journey from the Baltic to the Black Sea, it is derailed in Berlin already, where the author's uncle suffers a rather fantastic end to his life. Fearing for his aunt Zita's sanity (as well as looking for replacement dentures for her), she gets taken along for the journey, together with Winston the Tamworth pig, in the trusty East German steed - the aunt's Trabant.

As they wheeze their way through Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, and Russia, Zita has to resolve many issues that arose in her complicated past - including a Soviet spy husband, SS officer brother, Austrian aristocrat predecessors, etc. Through this we get an abridged look at some issues plaguing the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as how far from democracy and prosperity the countries were at this early point in their post Communist journey.

It is often incredibly funny, at times quite tragical, shows the mental constructs many were forced to erect around themselves to be able to deal with their situation, the pretty fantastical but nevertheless real stories many a family went through in the time since WW2, as well as the bleak outlook.

Many aspects described in the book have definitely changed since Maclean wrote it, so it has more of a historical significance now.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Feb. 2002
Format: Paperback
This is the unsung classic of 1990s travel writing; hilarious, painful, and fiinest summary of eastern European history in years! Five GOLD stars.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2 reviews
A porcine, an aunt and an Englishman review history 13 Nov. 2007
By Dr. Salomon Weir - Published on
Format: Paperback
An Englishman takes a whirlwind tour of Central Europe with his formerly-Communist German aunt and her pig, Winston. The porcine was responsible for the demise of the aunt's husband, by falling out of a tree whilst the poor gent (himself a former Communist, and responsible for many reprehensible historical acts, including involvement in the ordering of shooting of East Berliners trying to jump the concertina wire barrier, before partaking in the decision of building a wall to prevent more such escapes -- so, maybe not such a poor gent). Whilst they investigate in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland they are joined by the aunt's sister, a fervent anti-Communist, who does not pass up any opportunity to berate, attack, and argue with her sister, all while they are driving the second sister's dead husband to a proper burial place (the casket is transported on top of a car, and at times taken off whilst they stay overnight in one or another place -- one of those leading to the casket being "lost" and needing to be found and reclaimed).

In turn hilarious and poignant, it often also makes the senses come up short and blanch at the cruelty and violence of Europeans in the recent past: Nazi atrocities were not just the wiping out of Jewish populations, but retributions in the scale of 100 to 1 for every German soldier killed by resisters; there was also collaboration with the Nazis to wipe out Jews; and, not the least, Communists allowing peoples to be decimated by Nazis, as well as doing their own mass killing.

In the end, this is a masterful book. It is not the "charming delight" in the quote of John Le Carrè on the front cover. It is a work of art, a reminiscence and an acceptance of shared responsibility for the killings of so many, of the passive if not the active collaboration with the Germans who most decidedly actively killed millions, of the aggressive imperialism and horribly efficient cruelty of the Russian Communists. Written in poetic lyricism, in beautiful English, it is a stunning book.
fascinating view of E Europe ca. 1990 25 April 2011
By Andrew Adelmann - Published on
I was inspired to read this Eastern-Europe travelog by Colin Thubron's positive reference to MacLean's work; I recommended it to a book discussion group I'm in which just discussed it. The narrative covers the author's journey with his aunt and her pet pig Winston, from just-reunited Berlin south through Czechsolvakia to Hungary (the ostensible purpose being procurement of new dentures for Aunt Zita, which East Germans apparently all knew were best procured in Budapest) then back north to Poland, south again to Romania and finally by train to Moscow. Many outrageous and surreal happenings occur on the way, e.g. the death of Aunt Zita's husband Peter, by Winston who falls on the wheelchair-bound old man from a tree (preceding the action of the narrative); to the eponymous nose (from the dictator's statue in Budapest) which is buried in the Jewish cemetery in 1956, to be dug up for Aunt Zita, ultimately to be melted down by Poles to make busts of the Pope; to the demise of Zita's decrepit Trabant, swallowed up by a dissolving road in Romania; to the successful smuggling of Winston on a train to Moscow.

We find out a lot about the family's history, which is tied up in the tumultuous 20th-century history of eastern Europe. We meet Zita's estranged sister who emigrated to Britain after the war, hear about her brother who was in the SS, and hear more about Peter who was a Communist party functionary his whole professional life.

Stalin's Nose was a good discussion topic for our group! Issues raised included -
--how much is true? How much is fiction? Does it matter? This isn't a history ; we have only the author's word for it that any of this happened, and we noted that the narrator is rarely seen interacting with the people he meets - he's mostly quite diligent in keeping himself out of the picture. One of our group who has studied creative writing, looked at the narrative more or less as a novel, considering character development (Zita's character does change, arguably coming to terms for the first time with the horrors of the past) and the overall narrative arc. Someone else suggested that, bizarre as many of the events described sound, there's no reason to think them impossible.
--what was the complicity of the West in the Cold War? To what degree are we complicit today in fostering or allowing oppressive dictatorships around the world?
--how do you deal with the aftermath of dictatorship? How do you build a democratic civil society in the aftermath of decades of oppression? Per reportage in Stalin's Nose, there didn't seem to be much reason for optimism about the political future of these countries. This issue is particularly relevant today in light of recent events in Tunisia and Egypt not to mention Iraq.

I found this well worthwhile reading, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the 20th-century history of Europe. Made me interested in better-informing myself about what's happened there the past 20 years. You gain an appreciation of how fortunate we (Americans) are in that we don't have a horrific past to look back on, nothing like what this region experienced in the past 100 years. We have the luxury of being ignorant of our history, as recent history here has been relatively peaceful. Also our relative material wealth - one comment, "there are no bedrooms in east Europe," brought this home to me - housing stock there is poor, decrepit, and every room has to serve multiple functions.
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