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November 2012
448 pages  
50 b&w Illustrations
6 x 9 1/4
9780822962021
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The Walls Behind the Curtain
East European Prison Literature, 1945–1990
Segel, Harold
For the first time, The Walls Behind the Curtain presents a collection of works from East European novelists, poets, playwrights, and essayists who wrote during or after their captivity under communism. Harold B. Segel paints a backdrop of the political culture and prison and labor camp systems of each country, then offers biographical information on individual writers and presents excerpts of their writing.
Harold B. Segel is professor emeritus of Slavic literatures and comparative literature at Columbia University and the author of numerous books, including The Columbia Guide to the Literatures of Eastern Europe Since 1945 and The Columbia Literary History of Eastern Europe Since 1945.
“The work of a master scholar and translator, this is a powerful and moving collection of works by those who suffered in the infamous prisons of Communist Europe. The range of experiences reflected in these writings reveals the nobility and resilience individuals are capable of in the face of totalitarian inhumanity. Readers of Segel’s latest magisterial contribution to our understanding of the literature and experience of this region will find themselves again profoundly in his debt.”—Paul Knoll, University of Southern California

“Harold Segel has made another extraordinary contribution to our understanding of the history and literature of Eastern Europe. These poems, stories, letters, and essays, by writers who were imprisoned under Communist governments, are the fascinating and moving documents of one crucial aspect of European intellectual life in the age of the Cold War. Such writings enhance our understanding of numerous national literatures while, at the same time, suggesting a more comprehensive literature of Eastern Europe, based on common historical experience. Only a scholar of Segel's tremendous erudition and dedication could have envisioned and carried out such an important and revelatory project.”—Larry Wolff, New York University

”An impressive though harrowing anthology of writing that describes interrogations, tortures, and other events from prisoners’ lives and their literary and philosophical thoughts from their letters home.”—Choice

"Presents a broad cross-section of writings on prison from seven countries of Central and Southern Europe . . . We should not fail to note the intimidating translation skills Segel has brought to bear on this project: most of the texts are translated by him, despite originating in a dizzying array of different languages. . . . It is one thing to include important texts, but quite another to present them in an accessible form; 'The Walls behind the Curtain' is superbly arranged and supported. . . . a well-balanced text that serves an effective introduction to camp literature outside Russia/the Soviet Union, but with all the requisite apparati to easily enable exploration . . . just as relevant for an undergraduate student as for a scholar whose lens has been (perhaps) too long focused solely on the Russian contributions to the camp experience." --Slavic and East European Journal /I>

Complete Description Reviews
Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies Table of Contents
Russia and East Europe/Literature Read a selection from this book
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Because of their visibility in society and ability to shape public opinion, prominent literary figures were among the first targets of Communist repression, torture, and incarceration. Authors such as Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn famously documented the experience of internment in Soviet gulags. Little, however, has been published in the English language on the work of writers imprisoned by other countries of the Soviet bloc.
For the first time, The Walls Behind the Curtain presents a collection of works from East European novelists, poets, playwrights, and essayists who wrote during or after their captivity under communism. Harold B. Segel paints a backdrop of the political culture and prison and labor camp systems of each country, detailing the onerous conditions that writers faced. Segel then offers biographical information on each writer and presents excerpts of their writing. Notable literary figures included are Vaclav Havel, Eva Kanturkova, Milan SimeCka, Adam Michnik, Milovan Djilas, Paul Goma, Tibor Dery, and Visar Zhiti, as well as many other writers.
This anthology recovers many of the most important yet overlooked literary voices from the era of Communist occupation. Although translated from numerous languages, and across varied cultures, there is a distinct commonality in the experiences documented by these works. The Walls Behind the Curtain serves as a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and a quest for individual liberty that many writers forfeited their lives for.

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