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An Important Book On The Evolution Of Identity
This is a biography of a borderland between Russia and Poland, a region where, in 1925, people identified as Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians lived side by side. Over the next three decades, this mosaic of cultures was modernized and homogenized out of existence by the ruling might of the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, an d finally, Polish and Ukrainian nationalism. By the 1950s, this no place emerged as a Ukrainian heartland, and the fertile mix of peoples that defined the region was destroyed. Browns study is grounded in the life of the village and shtetl, in the personalities and small histories of everyday life in this area. In impressive detail, she documents how these regimes, bureaucratically and then violently, separated, named, and regi mented this intricate community into distinct ethnic groups.
Drawing on recently opened archives, ethnography, and oral interviews that were unavailable a decade ago, A Biography of No Place reveals Stalinist and Nazi history from the perspective of the remote borderlands, thus bringing the periphery to the center of history. We are given, in short, an intimate portrait of the ethnic purification that has marked all of Europe, as well as a glimpse at the margins of twentiethcentury progress.
Personal Review: A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland by Kate Brown
A Biography of No Place is not really a biography of the borderland region in Ukraine, but rather concerns the creation and evolution of ethnic and national identities by competing actors inside and outside the region. As Brown shows, the idea of nationality was often imposed on the region, where both nationality and ethnicity had previously been non-existent or fluid. While the book takes some detours, for me it ultimately succeeds in condemning the 20th century as the century when the modern nation state successfully imposed it's will over all of Europe - leaving millions dead as a result. In addition to many other lessons, the book really points out the pitfalls in viewing historical conflicts as one ethnicity vs. another. Reading the book left also me wondering if modern economic development in any way correlated with the existence of clear national and ethnic typologies or vice-versa? One of my criticisms of the book include the author often going into vague historical psycho-analysis without providing concrete sufficient evidence to bolster her claims. The chapter entitled "Ghosts in the Bathhouse" is also ultimately unsatisfying as the author seems to suggest that the ghosts, faeries, and rusalki of the region might actually be real. Some readers might dismiss a good portion of this chapter as post-modern equivocation. The author also never really clearly explains the history the Ukrainian Catholic Church or defines "Ukrainian Catholics." Overall though, the book is engaging book for anyone interested in the history of Ukraine, Soviet history, or more generally the creation of the modern nation state and ethnicity in Europe.
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