Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia

Neal Ascherson writes:

This book is, in large part, about people who at different times pretended that nothing had happened. About the men and women who had persuaded themselves that Hitler’s Germany was a place where the Prussian virtues of fairness and self-restraint could still flourish, and who discovered their mistake too late. About the exiles for whom the East Prussia they lost but still see in dreams continues to exist on a plane beyond reality. But it is also about what did happen in this beautiful, brutally contested and colonised corner of Europe. Max Egremont, a graceful and practised writer, has taken pains to learn its complicated history; he has driven and tramped back and forth across the territory, now divided between three independent nation-states, and he has listened sympathetically to those who live there now and those – growing older and fewer – who lived there when Ostpreussen was German. He’s modest, aware that a modern Brit cannot easily grasp what it means to live among changeable frontiers, but open about his own feelings. On the trams in Kaliningrad, ‘over-burdened people make you feel ashamed to be rich and happy.’

(LRB 24 May 2012)

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