A brilliant, funny and heartbreaking account of people in formerly Communist countries who are nostalgic for how they used to live.
For hundreds of years, Bulgarian Gypsies trained bears to dance, welcoming them into their families and taking them on the road to perform. In the early 2000s, after the fall of Communism, they were forced to release the bears into a wildlife refuge. But, even today, whenever the bears see a human, they still get up on their hind legs to dance.
In the tradition of Ryszard Kapuściński, award-winning Polish journalist Witold Szablowski tells remarkable stories of people throughout Eastern Europe and in Cuba who, like Bulgaria’s dancing bears, are now free but long for when they were not. He describes hitchhiking through Kosovo as it declares independence, arguing with the guides at the Stalin Museum, and sleeping in London’s Victoria Station alongside a homeless Polish woman. Dancing Bears is a fascinating portrait of social and economic upheaval, and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule.
'Witold Szablowski is a born storyteller. His reports from the post-Communist world read like fairy-tales with the stench of reality. Absurd, darkly funny, compassionate, his book is a literary jewel.’ - Ian Buruma
‘A poignant allegory about the human costs of regime change. Combining black humour with lyrical prose, Szablowski brilliantly captures the tragic disorientation of men and women whose lifes were bifurcated by the sudden collapse of Communism and ruthless onslaught of neoliberal capitalism. Dancing Bears should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand the growing appeal of authoritarian leaders in Eastern Europe today.’- Kristen Ghodsee
‘Elegantly pulling together the varied threads, Szabłowski combines personal histories, letting his interviewee do the talking, with a unique storytelling device. As a result, Dancing Bears is both a compelling social history and a stunning example of literary journalism.’ AU Review
‘A compelling and nuanced portrait of the push between the freedoms of modernity and nostalgia for the old communist system…[Szablowski] displays the qualities of a top-notch reporter: an eye for telling detail and inherent sympathy for his subject.’ - Australian