Walking Since Daybreak : A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of Our Century

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9780618082315: Walking Since Daybreak : A Story of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Heart of Our Century

Part history, part autobiography, WALKING SINCE DAYBREAK tells the tragic story of the Baltic nations before, during, and after World War II. Personal stories of the survival or destruction of Modris Eksteins's family members lend an intimate dimension to this vast narrative of those millions who have surged back and forth across the lowlands bordering the Baltic Sea. The immense cataclysm of World War II devastated the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, sending many of their inhabitants to the ends of the earth. WALKING SINCE DAYBREAK belongs in the great tradition of books that redefine our understanding of history, like J. R. Huizinga's THE WANING OF THE MIDDLE AGES and Jacob Burckhardt's THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY. Eksteins's two-pronged narrative is a haunting portrait of national loss and the struggle of a displaced family caught in the maw of history.

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Review:

For thousands of years, the windswept plains of the eastern Baltic attracted migrant tribes from all over Eurasia. These peoples lived together, sometimes uneasily, sometimes at peace, forging the multiethnic cultures of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The last two centuries have brought one army after another to the Baltic, led by Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas, Hitler's generals, and Stalin's field marshals. In the wake of World War II, the multiethnic cultures of the Baltic splintered, and millions of citizens, including Canadian historian Modris Eksteins, born in Latvia in 1943, were sent into flight.

Eksteins's narrative, haunted by ghosts and unconventional in structure, embraces many stories. At one level, he offers a requiem for the Baltic past. At another, he composes a personal history of his family, driven so far from its homeland. At yet another, he ponders the nature of history itself in a tale that "must reflect the loss of authority, of history as ideal and of the author-historian as agent of that ideal. What we are left with is the intimacy not of truth but of experience." The terrible experience of war and conflagration propels his beautifully rendered, eyes-wide-open narrative. During his childhood, Eksteins concludes, "for regret and tears there was no time, no point." Half a century later, he is able to mourn the loss of the old Baltic world--and readers of contemporary history will find much to think about as he does. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Modris Ekstein is a professor of history at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

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