Danc­ing Bears: True Sto­ries about Long­ing for the Old Days

Paradise - - Living | Books -

(Text Pub­lish­ing), by Wi­told Sz­ablowski (trans­lated by An­to­nia Lloyd- Jones)

Wi­told Sz­ablowski is an award-win­ning Pol­ish jour­nal­ist. His book, de­scribed as bril­liant, funny and heart­break­ing, is an ac­count of peo­ple in for­mer com­mu­nist coun­tries who re­main in­trigu­ingly nos­tal­gic for how life once was.

For hun­dreds of years, Bul­gar­ian gyp­sies trained bears to dance, wel­com­ing them into their fam­i­lies and tak­ing them on the road to per­form. In the early 2000s, af­ter the fall of com­mu­nism, they were forced to re­lease the bears into a wildlife refuge. But, even to­day, we are told, when­ever the bears see a hu­man, they still get up on their hind legs to dance.

In the tra­di­tion of ac­claimed Pol­ish writer Ryszard Ka­pus­cin­ski, Sz­ablowski tells sto­ries of peo­ple through­out Eastern Europe and in Cuba who, like Bul­garia’s danc­ing bears, are now free but long for when they were not.

Sz­ablowski likes to wan­der and his book in­cludes ac­counts of him hitch­hik­ing through Kosovo as it de­clares in­de­pen­dence, ar­gu­ing with the guides at the Stalin Mu­seum, and sleep­ing in Lon­don’s Vic­to­ria Sta­tion along­side a home­less Pol­ish woman.

Danc­ing Bears is a por­trait not only of so­cial and eco­nomic up­heaval, but a les­son in the chal­lenges ac­com­pa­nied by free­dom; it re­veals, for some peo­ple at least, the se­duc­tion of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule.

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