I also have started collecting titles that in some way or another explain my personal history to me and in some way or another help me articulate the past that I was born into. I keep imagining a future conversation with someone who wants to know what growing up in Eastern Europe was like and me, right there, ready with a story but also ready with a reading list. Here, read this. It will all make sense. Needless to say, very few such conversations have taken place but my curatorial exploration continues.
As I keep reading, I am always drawn to titles that in some way focus in on the banality of everyday life under communism. I am really curious about the ways in which that particular regime influenced the way people ate, dressed, spent their free time. The little things, you know. I do not look for such titles out of some sense of vengeance. I don't need proof that communism ruined many. I know it did. But I also know that life in the Soviet Bloc wasn't always bad, wasn't always awful. And I am infinitely curious about the ways people managed to discover peace and beauty in it all. It's a terribly self-centered way of interpreting literary work. It's also everything your literature professors tell you NOT to do to a piece of work but it's how I read and in my olden age, I've decided there is no point in feeling embarrassed about it. People read for different reasons and I'm happy to just leave it at that.
I recently read From Newbury with Love: Letters of Friendship Across the Iron Curtain and the book is definitely going on that mental Reading List I was just telling you about. The book collects the private correspondence between a British elderly couple and a young Soviet family living in what is now Moldova. In 1971 Harold Edwards, a retired antiquarian bookseller from Newbury, joins Amnesty International and discovers a letter writing campaign to Soviet children of political prisoners. He sends a card to Marina Aidova who is 7 at the time. He picks her because her birthday is the day before his. What follows is a very charming, very touching, very FUNNY correspondence that lasts up until 1986 when Mr. Edwards passes on. The book is put together by Marina herself, now a prominent English translator working with various international organizations in Eastern Europe and her British co-editor, BBC World Service producer Anna Horsbrugh-Porter. The project is a collaboration with Amnesty International.
In the next few days, I will post about the book in three parts: postal service, fashion and literature. You don't want to miss it, I'm telling ya!
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