Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny by Witold Szabłowski

I was turned onto this book by my Polish friend. She is a huge cheerleader for all great Polish writers, such as this author and others like Olga Tokarczuk. I'm also very fond of original, funny, and clever book titles. It turns out I wasn't disappointed by this book.

In the first half of the book, they talk about the dancing bears in Bulgaria. It talks about how they were banned, and then rounded up to be rehabilitated in a nature park. It tells this story from different perspectives: the bear trainers, their families, and the people working at the bear park.

Later the author shows how humans have the same struggle the bears do. They have difficulty letting go of their past, no matter how terrible we might now think it was. We have the ladies who adore Stalin working in the Stalin museum. We have the anarchists in Athens, and so many more people from all around the world.

The author seems to have gotten these incredible vignettes from people by hitchhiking around and meeting people. It may not seem that this book is very cohesive, but it is a better read than I describe. Now this book isn't as tight a story line as Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich, but it is much lighter, and easier to read. The unifying thread throughout the book is that: some people dislike change, people are nostalgic for the 'way things were' when they were growing up.

I really love reading translated fiction. Translated fiction like this gives me a little peek into another world. I can get a glimpse of other people's lives and ways of thinking. I truly think more people should read translated fiction. If you only read fiction in your native tongue, you are missing out on so many other beautiful, and different perspectives.

Speaking of Polish authors, if you want another one to check out, my friend recommends Andrzej Sapkowski. He's the man who wrote “The Witcher” series.

The moral of this review is, listen to your bookish friends. You will discover new books you may never have picked up otherwise.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #2 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

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