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Dancing Bears


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Incisive, humorous and heartbreaking oral histories of people living in formerly Communist countries holding fast to their former lives, from one of Poland's finest journalists.

About the Author

Witold Szablowski is an award-winning Polish journalist. His 2013 book about Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City, won the Beata Pawlak Award and an English PEN award, and was nominated for the Nike Award, Poland's most prestigious book prize.


'One of the truest and most beautiful things I've read.' -- Tim Flannery
`Witold Szablowski is a born storyteller. His reports from the post-Communist world read like fairy-tales with the stench of reality. Absurd, darkly funny, compassionate, his book is a literary jewel.' -- Ian Buruma
`Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it.' -- Timothy Snyder
`A fascinating and wide-ranging book that shows how, across different and diverse species, old habits die slowly, if at all. Humans, like other animals, often don't know when they've gained freedom because conditions of oppression have become the norm and they're unable to adjust to a newfound lack of restraint. Szablowski's clever and metaphorical use of dancing bears to make this point is beautifully done.' -- Marc Bekoff
`Heartrending...A sharply drawn account of people in "newly free societies" who long for life to be the same as it was in the unfree past...Connected by the allegory of performing bears, Szablowski's melancholy personality studies underscore freedom's challenges and the seductions of authoritarian rule.' * Publishers Weekly *
`A poignant allegory about the human costs of regime change. Combining black humour with lyrical prose, Szablowski brilliantly captures the tragic disorientation of men and women whose lifes were bifurcated by the sudden collapse of Communism and ruthless onslaught of neoliberal capitalism. Dancing Bears should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand the growing appeal of authoritarian leaders in Eastern Europe today.' -- Kristen Ghodsee
`A new Kapuscinski is among us.' * Gazeta Wyborcza *
`A fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule. So, you know, maybe not a great distraction from what's going on right now, but something that will at least help you understand it a little better.' * Awl *
`Elegantly pulling together the varied threads, Szablowski combines personal histories, letting his interviewee do the talking, with a unique storytelling device. As a result, Dancing Bears is both a compelling social history and a stunning example of literary journalism.' * AU Review *
`Dancing Bears has the immediate power of observation typical of some of the best literary traditions of Polish reportage and just like its predecessors it relishes in an allegorical understanding of things.' * *
`Polish journalist Witold Szablowski uncovers life after communism with a curious, humorous and, at times, tender account of regular folk struggling to come to terms with the new world.' * Adelaide Review *
'Szablowski has a keen eye for the absurd.' * Literary Flits *
`Utterly original...Provokes a far-reaching and unresolved conversation about what freedom might really mean.' * New York Times Book Review *
`Fascinating.' * Otago Daily Times *
`A compelling and nuanced portrait of the push between the freedoms of modernity and nostalgia for the old communist system...[Szablowski] displays the qualities of a top-notch reporter: an eye for telling detail and -inherent sympathy for his subject.' * Australian *
`Riveting.' * Overland *

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