The Art and Culture of the Year of Revolt

Dmitry-Vrubel-paints-a-mu-001Several critics assess the impact of 1989 on art in and about Eastern Europe in the Guardian. William Skidelsky:


The most striking thing is how few notable novels about the events of that year there have been; or at any rate, how few have made a big impression on the English-speaking world. Perhaps the best-known work to deal directly with 1989 is Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light by Ivan Klíma. Set during Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, it tracks the life of a cynical cameraman whose ideals have been compromised by his complicity with the old regime.

Klima's French-based compatriot Milan Kundera has never written a 1989 novel although he dramatised the dilemmas of the exile returning to post-communist Prague in his fine 2000 novella Ignorance. Other former Soviet bloc writers, too, have found inspiration in the world ushered in by 1989. A fantastical, surrealist strain runs through the best post-communist satires, such as Andrey Kurkov's Death and the Penguin, Pavel Huelle's Mercedes-Benz and Victor Pelevin's The Clay Machine-Gun.

Oddly enough, perhaps the best fictional chronicler of 1989, other than Klima, is Julian Barnes, whose short 1992 novel, The Porcupine, concerns the trial of the recently deposed dictator of a nameless Soviet satellite state.