Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kristen Ghodsee's "The Left Side of History"

Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College and a former Guggenheim Fellow. She is the author of several books and over two dozen articles, including The Red Riviera: Gender, Tourism and Postsocialism on the Black Sea and Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe: Gender, Ethnicity and the Transformation of Islam in Postsocialist Bulgaria, which won the 2010 Barbara Heldt Book Prize, the 2011 John D. Bell Book Prize, the 2011 Harvard Davis Center Book Prize, and the 2011 William Douglass Prize for Best Book in Europeanist Anthropology.

Ghodsee applied “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe, and reported the following:
The 99th Page of The Left Side of History is a perfectly black page that marks the exact middle point of the book. The only words on the page appear in white. They read: “Part II: The Remains of the Regime.” I think this page captures one of the most unique themes of the book: how the history of World War II still affects our political culture today, especially in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc.

The first part of the book tells the stories of a British Special Operations Executive Officer and the Bulgarian partisans he was sent to help as part of the Allied War effort in the Balkans. Part I also examines the ideals and motivations of a Bulgarian family of guerrillas, three brothers and their younger sister, the latter who became the youngest female partisan fighting in her country. They all wanted to crush the Nazis, but they also dreamed of building a more socially just and peaceful world.

Part II of the book starts on page 99 and examines how these people and their ideals are remembered today, more than two decades after the collapse of East European communism. George Orwell once wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” The politics of memory are hotly contested in Eastern Europe today. Those who fought against the Nazis and their allies, but also happened to believe in the ideals of communism, are either forgotten or demonized as Stalinists. I argue for a more nuanced and subtle understanding of the ideology that inspired honor and self-sacrifice in both an educated British gentleman and a poor Bulgarian schoolgirl. I also ask how memory is produced, by whom, and for what purposes.

I love that page 99 is an all-black page in the book, because one of my main themes is how contemporary elites are “blackwashing” the communist past to foreclose more egalitarian political alternatives for the future.
Learn more about The Left Side of History at the Duke University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: The Left Side of History.

--Marshal Zeringue