On the night of November 9, 1989, after months of unrest in Europe and East Germany, the checkpoints of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin were suddenly, almost accidentally, opened, starting a process that would bring together a Europe that had been divided for thirty years. This anthology, which features fiction, essays, images, and historical documents. It combines work from the generation of writers and artists who witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain first-hand with the impressions and reflections of those who grew up in its wake. The book provides a unique view into the change, optimism, and confusion that came with 1989 and examines how each of these has weathered the past twenty years--From publisher's description.
That, if anything, is an understatement.
This book provides an in-depth look, more so than any textbook or documentary can, at life within that mysterious (former) Eastern bloc. This collection of words and pictures, poetry and prose, fact and fiction, explores the Soviet era from the dawn of the Cold War to those fateful days in 1989 when it all came undone to the aftereffects of East meeting West.
From ideas of escape to the West, the absurdity of bureaucracy, and extremes of Soviet censorship to tales of people who proudly stood in queue for hours on end, who wanted to see what was on the other side of the fence, who wanted to eke out a living better than anyone else, to be somebody in a land where all were (supposedly) equal, to find love, and (my personal favorites) true stories of a band that started a revolution, the unexpected suffering of post-Communism Yugoslavia, and the struggle between Eastern desire for all things Western and Western guilt at altering, perhaps destroying, all culture Eastern, this book may, in fact, have it all.
The preceding may have been all for naught, however; The Wall in My Head is a magnificent collection that, despite my best efforts, I truly believe to be indescribable. Perhaps the greatest service I can do it now is to simply leave you with what might be its most profound thought, found in the final sentence of Mr. Gessen’s introduction: “The wall, you know, wasn’t entirely inside your head.”
It is dense and, because the pieces are written by behind-the-Iron-Curtain authors, there are insider references and imagery that take a while to figure out. But the overall picture built up through little details and different perspectives is fascinating.
This is a book that will stick with the reader.