My guest on this week’s programme is Michael Moran, author of A Country in the Moon: Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland.
Michael first visited Poland in the early 1990s after the collapse of Communism as leader of an ill-assorted crew of British teachers charged with introducing the Poles to the delights of market capitalism. As a pianist, he was attracted by the music of Chopin, but confesses that he knew little about the country. He little suspected that he would fall in love with the country and end up making it his home.
A Country in the Moon – the description is Edmund Burke’s and dates from 1795, but might still stand for a country which is very little known and all too often reduced to cliché in the West – achieves something very rare for a travel book: it manages to be genuinely funny and entertaining, and also deeply thought-provoking about the many terrible chapters in Poland’s history.
The book has been widely praised; the Guardian called it “the best contemporary travel book on Poland, reminiscent in its finest moments of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s masterful Time of Gifts” and said “No thinking traveller interested in Poland should overlook this essential book”. The Observer admired how it “triumphantly balanc[ed] humour with scholarship”, while the Spectator called it “well-researched and hugely entertaining… a three-star feast”.
Click on the podcast player above to find out what Michael finds so attractive about Poland – and what it is like to tour the country in a venerable old Rolls-Royce.
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Andrew Kahn is University Lecturer in Russian at the University of Oxford and Tutor and Fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. He has degrees from Harvard and Oxford in Russian and Classics. His scholarly research draws on his wide-ranging interests in European literature, most especially Greek, Latin and French.
In addition to writing about Pushkin, whom he talked about on Podularity in programme 21, “In Pushkin’s Library”, he works on Enlightenment literature in Russia and Europe, on the history of ideas, the comparative reception of European culture in Russia, travel writing, the history of translation, and twentieth-century poetry.
Here are Andrew’s three favourite books from the last decade:
The contemporary of Milosz, and somewhat overshadowed by him in the West, Herbert seen in the unity of his poetic creation is one of the most biting and elegant ironists of the twentieth century. His alter ego, Pan Cogito, ranks with Kafka’s K. as a haunting witness to oppressive systems. Yet many poems convey Herbert’s acute visual imagination and his flair for dramatic monologue. A great classic of modern poetry.
This collection of Said’s essays on music and performance shows him at his lucid, elegant best. A masterful close reader of texts, he is also a close listener who has the rare gift of explaining the ideas of music and music of ideas in words. The essay comparing Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s Magic Flute is a particular revelation, but every page here has fine observations on classical music from the classical period to the post-modern age.
The publication in English for the first time of this complete, restored version of Solzhenitsyn’s literary masterpiece is an event. A novel in the grand tradition of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, packed with ideas and an epic cast of characters, it is also a political thriller. The chapters on Stalin must rank as one of the greatest and most chilling studies in the mentality of tyranny.