Judy DempseyEditor, Strategic Europe, Carnegie Europe

Fiction

The Magician by Colm Tóibín. Verging on biography and fiction, Tóibín pulls no punches about Thomas Mann’s deceit and his disdain for the status quo (up to a point). For his own egocentric reasons, Mann wanted to believe the Germans were too sane to believe in or support Hitler. Unlike his brother, Heinrich, Mann consistently ducked the big issue: the role and responsibility of the writer, more relevant than ever in today’s unsettling political landscape.

Politics

Memory, the City and the Legacy of World War II in East Central Europe: The Ghosts of Others by Uilleam Blacker. Blacker’s analyses about identity, competing narratives, selective memory, and what it means to move into another culture—even occupying someone else’s home—are impressive. The backdrop is the post-1945 years when millions of people across East Central Europe were displaced, expelled, or forced to flee. Memories of an earlier life were suppressed or distorted.

This book is special for another reason. Blacker’s chapter on victimhood and martyrdom is essential for understanding how history and occupation are intrinsic to Poland and Ukraine’s views of the world. Don’t underestimate the immense cultural and historical gulfs between today's Western and Eastern Europe. 

Podcast, film, music

Tatiana Nikolayeva playing Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87. They are great. Shostakovich wrote them for Nikolayeva between 1950 and 1951 after he heard her play and win the Bach Competition, where she performed Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues.

Guilty Pleasure

My nephew nearly disowned me when I told him what I was reading…

The Jack Reacher novels. Lee Child’s Tripwire, published over twenty years ago, which I just read is, well, pretty brutal. As ever, Reacher pulls through with panache, an affair, and luck, only to hit the road again.

Uilleam BlackerAssociate professor in Comparative Culture at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Fiction

Olena Stiazhkina’s Cecil the Lion’s Death Made Sense. Olena Stiazhkina is originally from Donetsk and is one of the best literary guides to Donbas and the complex background to the war. The book follows the fate of five children born on the same day in Donetsk in 1986, including their differing reactions to Russia’s occupation of parts of Donbas in 2014.

I would also recommend Serhiy Zhadan’s The Orphanage, translated by. Reilly Costigan-Humas and Isaac Stockhouse-Wheeler, a gripping journey through an occupied Donbas city, and Andrei Kurkov’s Grey Bees, which explores the “grey zones” of the war in both the physical and metaphorical senses, and takes the reader on a journey from Donbas to Crimea.

Joseph Roth, The Emperor’s Tomb. Joseph Roth is one of my favourite writers, in part because he is a writer of Ukraine—he was from Brody, Galicia, and studied in Lviv, and that northeastern Habsburg borderland often features in his work.

Politics

Artem Chekh’s Absolute Zero is a very sensitive and thoroughly non-idealised account of the author’s frontline service as a conscript in the Ukrainian army. Highly recommended.

Podcast, film, music

There have been some superb films made about the war in Ukraine over recent years. Roman Bondarchuk’s Volcano is a sort of absurdly humorous, slightly fantastical, almost mythical treatment of the topic. Valentyn Vasianovych’s Atlantis is a very dark, dystopian exploration of a ruined Donbas in the future, after a Ukrainian victory. Natalia Vorozhbyt’s film Bad Roads explores the behind the scenes of the frontline, focusing on civilians’—especially women’s—experiences of the war.

Oana LungescuPrincipal spokesperson for NATO

Fiction

Reality overtakes fiction these days, but after the NATO summit in Madrid, I plan to read Addis Ababa Noir, a collection of stories edited by Maaza Mengiste. It will remind me of an extraordinary country I traveled to just before its latest descent into the deepest noir.

Politics

The Daughters of Yalta by Catherine Grace Katz. Beautifully researched, it’s the story of the 1945 Yalta Conference as told by three young women—Kathleen Harriman, Sarah Churchill, and Anna Roosevelt. They chronicle the complex relations between their fathers and Stalin, which shaped so much of our present.

Podcast, film, music

Just started season 4 of the Danish political drama Borgen on Netflix, looking for season 3 of the Norwegian political drama Occupied, finished The Coming Storm podcast by the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, and always listening to Leonard Cohen.

Guilty pleasures

Posting cat pictures on Instagram (@oanalungescu) and too much NATO content on Twitter (@NATOpress). And to clear the mind, rereading the poetry of Gellu Naum, a much-loved mentor and “the last surrealist.”

Paul TaylorContributing editor at Politico Europe

Politics

Having published a report about European security in the Black Sea region a month before Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I’m still trying to delve deeper into this permanently contested borderland between Europe, Eurasia, and Asia Minor, and its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural history through both travel literature and fiction.

After reading Neal Ascherson’s seminal politico-historical travelogue Black Sea, I’ve picked a travelogue and a sort-of novel to dig further.

Italian travel writer Paolo Rumiz’s The Fault Line: Traveling the Other Europe, From Finland to Ukraine recounts a 6,000-kilometer zigzag journey from Lapland to Odessa in search of the tortured soul of our continent.

Bulgarian-Scottish writer and poetess Kapka Kassabova’s Border is an exploration of the mountainous borderland between Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece, told through intertwined human stories against a backdrop of history and contemporary politics.

Podcast, film, music

The German Lesson directed by Christian Schwochow, based on Siegfried Lenz’s novel about the wartime memories of the son of a local German policeman in the northern coastal countryside.

In terms of series, Borgen is back, with the irresistible Sidse Babett Knudsen playing Danish politician Birgitte Nyborg, this time as a foreign minister with decidedly elastic principles.

Guilty pleasure

Eating asparagus in all its multiple sizes and colors—slim green asparagus stir-fried in olive oil and garlic à la Catalana; fat white asparagus steamed with homemade mayonnaise or just an olive oil and mustard dip; asparagus tips sautéed with pasta or as the X-factor ingredient in a blanquette of veal.

Gabriele WoidelkoHead of the history and politics department at the Körber-Stiftung

Fiction

Die Unschärfe der Weltv by Iris Wolff. Quietly and precisely written, this fascinating novel tells the story of a family from the Banat, a region today split between Romania, Hungary, and Serbia. In current times of nationalist aggression and war, this book reminds us of Europe’s multiethnic, multilingual, and multilayered pasts, which are inscribed into millions of family lives.

Politics

Odessa by historian Charles King. I recommend to (re)read this masterpiece of historiography and storytelling about a city that used to be one of the most cosmopolitan places of the Black Sea area and of Europe and that is now—as the rest of the country—under threat due to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Podcast, film, music

Chants du Sud et du Nord by the Norwegian-Catalan music group Hirundo Maris, the Latin name for the sea swallow. Working with Sephardic, Catalan, and Nordic traditional songs, musicians Arianna Savall and Petter Udland Johansen develop a contemporary, global interpretation that is likely to allow you to at least shortly escape from our troubled times.

Guilty pleasures

I confess that I am addicted to food podcasts when it comes to relaxation. One of my favorites is The Sporkful. The motto says it is for eaters, not for foodies—I think that is true. The recent episode on the past and present of Black American food is very much worth listening to.

Robert CooperBoard member at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

Politics

The Back Channel: Bill Burns’ memoir, among the best I’ve read. Fiona Hill’s There Is Nothing for You Here is memorable and hard to put down.

Podcast, film, music

Foreign Affairs has started doing podcasts. Their first episode, with Stephen Kotkin, the great historian of Russia, is on Ukraine, Russia, and the world. The best I’ve heard. I mention another I heard by chance on the BBC, in which a Burmese mother explained to her children that they would have to stay with their grandparents while she fought in the resistance. She wanted them to grow up in a democracy.

Guilty pleasure

P. G. Wodehouse is too much like the UK government to be amusing, but I recommend one short story: The Clicking of Cuthbert. I read this once to someone in hospital and she laughed so much her stitches had to be redone.

Michael Z. WiseCofounder of New Vessel Press

Fiction

I can’t help but recommend an extraordinary German novel we recently brought out in English, Pollak’s Arm by historian Hans von Trotha and translated by Elisabeth Lauffer. It deals with the tragic fate of fabled archaeologist Ludwig Pollak, his passion for classical antiquity, and why he declined the Vatican’s offer of refuge in the face of deportation from Rome to Auschwitz.

Nonfiction

Jacques Schiffrin: A Publisher in Exile, from Pléiade to Pantheon by Amos Reichman is the fascinating life and times of the creator of the illustrious French imprint and cofounder of Pantheon Books that profoundly enriched the American cultural scene with works by European authors. 

Podcast, film, music

I’ve finally learned to play François Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses on the piano. I plan to polish up my performance this summer.

Guilty pleasures

Taking a break with an afternoon walk for a pastry at a favorite New York bakery, Epices, on West 70th Street just off Columbus Avenue.

Thomas de WaalSenior fellow with Carnegie Europe

Fiction

My fiction and non-fiction recommendations are twins. Vesna Goldsworthy’s Iron Curtain: A Love Story is an unflinching brilliant novel about the mental divide between East and West in Europe in the Cold War era.

Lea Ypi’s memoir Free tells us all about the awfulness of life in totalitarian socialist Albania and then she is unromantically—and a bit controversially—scathing about the failures of the capitalist model that replaced it. A must-read. 

Podcast, film, music

The Financial Times’ Rachman Review with Gideon Rachman always leaves me with a lot more knowledge about a current affairs topic than when I started. BBC Radios 3 and 4 are surely the best radio stations in the world. I’m in awe of In Our Time where three scholars discuss an academic topic in depth.

Guilty pleasure

Having a six-year-old means that you get to read and enjoy the best children’s writers at bedtime. Eva Ibbotson’s children’s books The Secret of Platform 13 and Monster Mission are both magnificent—and you can see how J. K. Rowling drew inspiration from both.

Caroline de GruyterEuropean affairs correspondent for NRC Handelsblad

Fiction

Le Mage du Kremlin, by Giuliano da Empoli. A gripping, unputdownable novel based on a real conversation the author—a former adviser to Matteo Renzi—had with Vladislav Soerkov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long-time spin doctor.

Nonfiction

I recently read George Orwell’s 1942 essay The Lion and the Unicorn in preparation for a lecture. It deals with the question of whether to fight fascism or not. In light of the war in Ukraine this is a great (re-)read: is pacifism an option at all?

Podcast, film, music

Every morning (or almost) I tune into France Culture and its program L’Invité(e) des Matins presented by Guillaume Erner. Quiet, intelligent, and deep—my favorite antidote to snappy news programs elsewhere.

Guilty pleasure

Il Commissario Montalbano, an Italian detective series written by Andrea Camilleri, set in the fictional town of Vigata, Sicily. To watch police inspector Montalbano struggling with both crime and his own conscience is a pleasure in itself, but for those of us who have not managed to travel much during the past two years it is also a nice substitute for a little trip to Italy.