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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 November 2012
Andrzej Stasiuk is a highly-regarded Polish writer, much of whose work falls between genres. 'On the Road to Babadag', published in Polish in 2004, might be described as literary travel writing, or autobiography-by-way-of-itinerary. Stasiuk wanders around Eastern Europe, avoiding major centres of population, and writing about whatever happens to claim his attention. As a result, the book is at least as much about Stasiuk's personality - melancholic, elegiac, attracted instinctively to the fringes of life - as about the places he visits. He has a particular affinity for borders and margins: backwaters in which decay is the dominant motif, or the passage of time has slowed to imperceptibility.

This is not the book for someone looking for a simple travelogue. Stasiuk leaps about in time and space without much concern for continuity of anything other than mood and his own preoccupations. One map is provided, but the reader without detailed knowledge of the region will struggle to keep up amid the torrent of unfamiliar names: this is a book to be read with access to an atlas - or Google - to hand. On the other hand, the essence of an East European temperament that is far older than fascism or communism is powerfully conveyed. Stasiuk is a masterful stylist, and the excellent, idiomatic translation does him justice. At one point, he visits Răşinari, the village birthplace of Emil Cioran. I think that Cioran would have appreciated what he writes, and the spirit in which he writes it.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in the literature of the region, or contemporary writing in general. The same author's 'Dukla', another hard-to-classify blend of fiction and autobiography, is even better.
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on 26 August 2011
Fascinating and highly evocative reading for anyone interested in the 'other' Europe, the hinterlands of Hungary, Romania, Albania, Moldova, Transnistria. The author freely admits he is attracted to these grey, ragged edges where time inches forward and people's beliefs are shaped far more by the past than the future, and perhaps he does over-romanticise them. But as an alternative, lugubriously poetic travel memoir that takes you to places you probably won't go on holiday, thoroughly recommended.

See also: Lost and Found in Russia: Encounters in a Deep Heartland
Susan Richards
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on 20 October 2013
If you enjoy reading about crumbling stucco, peeling paintwork, places forgotten by time and the outside world, the backwaters of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, byways hidden by mist, melancholia, ferries to nowhere, drinking in forlorn bars, decay, the detritus of post-communism, village squares overgrown with untended trees, and sleepy border crossings, then this might be the book for you. All of these things and others dealt with by the Stasiuk, the author, fascinate me, but somehow his book did not grab my attention as tightly as I hoped that it would.

Is Stasiuk's writing poetry, or is it prose that is on the point of becoming poetry? Or, is it an almost meaningless ramble of words trying to evoke the meaning of memory? Whatever it is, one must take one's hat off to the translator, whose task of bringing this text from Polish into English must have been difficult. And, what a ramble this is. Stasiuk's memories drift from one place to another often without any discernible geographic logic. The exceptions are the chapters on Albania and Moldovar, which I enjoyed most.

Even if this book is not my favourite, it certainly captures the decaying atmosphere of the lesser visited corners of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, places that time and the outside world almost neglect. Every now and then, Stasiuk makes reference to the Romanian writer Emil Cioran (1911-1995), whom I had never heard of before. According to an article in Wikipedia, many of his works express torment, pessimism, and a tragic sense of history. These are some of the aspects of the places that fascinate Stasiuk, although I felt that he conveys a far more optimistic appraisal of the forgotten corners of the fringes of Europe that he visited.

This book was recommended to me by a friend. Would I recommend it? I am not sure. If you can read fast, which I cannot, then give it a try. If you are a slow reader, then give it a miss.

I have rated this book 3 stars, but I would have liked to have been able to award it, say, 2.75! I almost liked it, but not quite. Maybe the geographic confusion was a little too much for me. I would have preferred a slightly more linear set of journeys. However, as a a literary evocation of the randomness of the memory process, the author has succeeded. If you enjoy the works of W.G. Sebald, then it is likely that this book by Stasiuk will be up your street.
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on 24 October 2012
The author's style is remorselessly gloomy and ponderous, and the litany of long place names takes some resilience to manage, but this is an enjoyable book which opens up a fascinating picture of the Europe that most of us still haven't seen. Whether we will wish to after reading this is a moot point !
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 July 2014
This book describes Andrzej Stasiuk's travels to places like Sighetu Marmaţiei, Tarnobrzeg, Chop, Hidasnémeti, Comrat and Prekmurje. These are all in Central/Eastern Europe [Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania, Moldova and Ukraine] but, as with a great many more locations, the reader is unlikely to have ever come across them. These are places `that no one knows and where no one ever goes, places never mentioned but that make the world what it is.' Babadag itself is to be found in the northern Dobruja region of Romania.

This is not a typical travel book and, as there is only a single map, the reader would be advised to have Google nearby to find out where he is talking about [often the country is not specified].

Stasiuk, b. 1960, is now one of Poland's most successful contemporary Polish writers, a journalists, poet and critic. He is perhaps best known in Central/Eastern Europe for his travel writing. He has limited himself to Eastern Europe and has said that he has no interest in travelling in Western Europe since this is far removed from his `Central and Eastern reality.'

Published in 2004 by Czarne, his own small company that specialises in literature from these regions, this book won Poland's premier literary award and this translation, by Michael Kandel, was published in 2012. Given the author's discursive, almost meditative, style, great credit is due to Kandel for a lyrical translation that always interests and engages, despite its complexity.

For Stasiuk, a great deal of the pleasure of his travelling lies in serendipity, following a road, river or mountain track but changing direction when the mood dictates. Major arteries, motorways, rivers and canals do not interest him, nor do cities, and speed of travel is of no concern. There is no one destination that he looks forward to, he retains a very general interest in wherever he ends up and, once there, he sets off again. He adopts a similar approach in his writing that, once the reader has relaxed into it, charms. It is unsurprising that the author is a poet, his `Love and non-love poems' being published in 1994, because much of his writing seems to be an extended prose poem. Villages remind him of `muddy turtle shells lying in a depression'. As a poet he is more attentive to local myth and legend than to history that is manipulated by its recorder.

In contrast to almost every other travel writer, Stasiuk hides behind his words, taking detachment to an extreme. The reader learns little about Stasiuk the traveller, just where he travels. Indeed, a photograph that I took to be of the author turns out to be `Romanians in Warsaw' - recognition of the Roma who feature highly in the pages as the epitome of a people that resist changing with time. He admires them because they `practise the ancient art of rag picking in the midst of the postmodern and post-industrial [world].'

History records that little happens in these lands, because no-one is there to take the record, but when something does happen, it is usually awful. As when Stasiuk finds the largest unmarked cemetery in Slovenia where `in the summer of 1945, Tito's Communists murdered in this place, without a trial or witnesses, prisoners who had been handed over to them by armies of the Allies.'

The author admits that it is difficult for him to recall the myriad of locations that he has travelled and they merge one into one another so that his memories are suspect, `I see now how little I remember, how everything that happened could have happened elsewhere.' At times I was reminded of W. G. Sebald. Only rarely does he slip into banality, as in `Albania is loneliness'.

The literary figures that Stasiuk mentions are as little known to most English readers as his towns and villages. Ádám Bodor, Edvard Kocbek, Péter Esterházy, Mirea Eliade, Sándor Petöfi and Emil Cioran in whose childhood village `from the fields came the choking air of pastures, from the gutters the cesspool seep of barns and sties; and one day in the river I saw entrails floating.' Not exactly what one encounters in the usual guidebooks.

This book might be used together with more conventional travel guides. The former addresses the essence of a place, the latter its sights/sites filtered through the author. Unlike conventional guides, Stasiuk's can be dipped into at random to enjoy the sheer beauty of the translated text.
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on 3 October 2011
Andrzej Stasiuk is an author driven by the urge to capture the experience of his neighbouring countries before their natures crumble under the strain of inevitable change and progress. He is fascinated by decline - of effort not quite finally realised, and the sweet taint of rotting through that incompleteness. His evident joy at the lives of the indefatigable Gypsies who scurry about making use out of this detritus is thoroughly stimulating. However, as a previous reviewer observed, his unremittingly lugubrious tone dulls the experience, although I appreciate this is my personal point of view, and other readers may see it as more complimentary to his subject matter. For me, it just added that touch of diminishment to an otherwise outstanding piece of historical/geographical travalogue.
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on 21 March 2016
I can see what the author was attempting, but I'm not convinced he achieved it. The book comes across as a stageringly self-ingulgent collection of notes.

Don't bother with the make-weight essays - cut straight to the final essay which gives this collection its name. On Kindle keep the wi-fi running so you can look up the place names on Wikipedia - the map is next to useless.
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