Humorous and heartbreaking in equal measure, Dancing Bears reminds us how journalism can change the way we see the world.
‘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
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A brilliant, portrait of social and economic upheaval, and a lesson in the challenges of freedom and the seductions of authoritarian rule.
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 foced 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 takes us from eastern Europe to London, Greece and Cuba, uncovering the stories of people whose lives haven’t quite caught up with their countries’ political turns: the families who mourn for the days they raised bears alongside their children; the women who take care of Stalin’s childhood home in Georgia; the villagers who turn their homes into hobbit holes for tourism in Poland.
About Witold Szablowski
Witold Szablowski is an award-winning Polish journalist. His 2013 book about Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City, won the Beata Pawlak Award and an English PEN award, and was nominated for the Nike Award, Poland’s most prestigious book prize. He lives in Warsaw and speaks English, he is available for interview and feature. He travelled extensively through countries from Bulgaria to Cuba for research around this book.
Antonia Lloyd-Jones is a leading translator from Polish, and has twice won the Found in Translation Award. She is a mentor for the UK’s Emerging Translators’ Mentorship Programme, and a former co- chair of the Translators Association. She lives in London.
PRAISE FOR WITOLD SZABLOWSKI
‘Mixing bold journalism with bolder allegories, Mr Szablowski teaches us with witty persistence that we must desire freedom rather than simply expect it.’ Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny
‘Heartrending…A sharply drawn account of people in “newly free societies” who long for life to be the same as it was in the unfree past…Connected by the allegory of performing bears, Szablowski’s melancholy personality studies underscore freedom’s challenges and the seductions of authoritarian rule.’ Publishers Weekly
‘One of the truest and most beautiful things I’ve read.’ Tim Flannery, author of The Weathermakers
‘A fascinating and wide-ranging book that shows how, across different and diverse species, old habits die slowly, if at all. Humans, like other animals, often don’t know when they’ve gained freedom because conditions of oppression have become the norm and they’re unable to adjust to a newfound lack of restraint. Szablowski’s clever and metaphorical use of dancing bears to make this point is beautifully done.’ Marc Bekoff, co-author of The Animals Agenda
‘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
‘A new Kapuscinski is among us.’ Gazeta Wyborcza
Witold Szablowski strikes an excellent balance between hard-hitting journalism, astute political analysis, and humorous observations.’ The Huffington Post
‘This is not a travelogue: Mr Szablowski is a time-traveller, a disenfranchised Pole who hangs out like Gulliver in a land where politics, crime, humour, home economics and family life seem topsy-turvy yet strangely familiar...’ The Economist
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