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A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland

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This is a biography of a borderland between Russia and Poland, a region where, in 1925, people identified as Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians lived side by side. Over the next three decades, this mosaic of cultures was modernized and homogenized out of existence by the ruling might of the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, and finally, Polish and Ukrainian nati This is a biography of a borderland between Russia and Poland, a region where, in 1925, people identified as Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians lived side by side. Over the next three decades, this mosaic of cultures was modernized and homogenized out of existence by the ruling might of the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, and finally, Polish and Ukrainian nationalism. By the 1950s, this "no place" emerged as a Ukrainian heartland, and the fertile mix of peoples that defined the region was destroyed. Brown's study is grounded in the life of the village and shtetl, in the personalities and small histories of everyday life in this area. In impressive detail, she documents how these regimes, bureaucratically and then violently, separated, named, and regimented this intricate community into distinct ethnic groups. Drawing on recently opened archives, ethnography, and oral interviews that were unavailable a decade ago, A Biography of No Place reveals Stalinist and Nazi history from the perspective of the remote borderlands, thus bringing the periphery to the center of history. We are given, in short, an intimate portrait of the ethnic purification that has marked all of Europe, as well as a glimpse at the margins of twentieth-century "progress."


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This is a biography of a borderland between Russia and Poland, a region where, in 1925, people identified as Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians lived side by side. Over the next three decades, this mosaic of cultures was modernized and homogenized out of existence by the ruling might of the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, and finally, Polish and Ukrainian nati This is a biography of a borderland between Russia and Poland, a region where, in 1925, people identified as Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians lived side by side. Over the next three decades, this mosaic of cultures was modernized and homogenized out of existence by the ruling might of the Soviet Union, then Nazi Germany, and finally, Polish and Ukrainian nationalism. By the 1950s, this "no place" emerged as a Ukrainian heartland, and the fertile mix of peoples that defined the region was destroyed. Brown's study is grounded in the life of the village and shtetl, in the personalities and small histories of everyday life in this area. In impressive detail, she documents how these regimes, bureaucratically and then violently, separated, named, and regimented this intricate community into distinct ethnic groups. Drawing on recently opened archives, ethnography, and oral interviews that were unavailable a decade ago, A Biography of No Place reveals Stalinist and Nazi history from the perspective of the remote borderlands, thus bringing the periphery to the center of history. We are given, in short, an intimate portrait of the ethnic purification that has marked all of Europe, as well as a glimpse at the margins of twentieth-century "progress."

30 review for A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    By far, the best book I've read in grad school thus far. Brown does an excellent job of weaving first-person narrative with historical research. She's a great story teller and can masterfully connect the stories and their people to the larger historical context.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James

    This one took a while to get into, but definitely a worthwhile read if you're interested in the subject. The author seeks to explain how early 1920s western Ukraine--a heterogeneous mix of Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, Russians and Germans--became post-1945 western Ukraine, or basically just people that identify themselves as Ukrainians. It's an interesting analysis of ethno-linguistic identities being brought to one of the last parts of Europe that didn't have them. Often, though made with good inte This one took a while to get into, but definitely a worthwhile read if you're interested in the subject. The author seeks to explain how early 1920s western Ukraine--a heterogeneous mix of Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, Russians and Germans--became post-1945 western Ukraine, or basically just people that identify themselves as Ukrainians. It's an interesting analysis of ethno-linguistic identities being brought to one of the last parts of Europe that didn't have them. Often, though made with good intentions, these changes had dire consequences for the people that were living in this part of Ukraine. The result was two parodoxical microcosms: one of Eastern Europe past (adoption of national identity over feudalism) and one of Eastern Europe future (disintegration along ethno-linguistic lines).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erma Odrach

    The land of "no place" is a corridor of land, where "...villages and hamlets are small islands between forest and bog", between Poland and Russia, once called the kresy by the Poles. The area, or "borderland", though it was never a "political polity" or "possessed any historic notoriety", culturally was very rich and diverse, and in 1925 was inhabited by Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians. Brown writes how over the next 30 years the area not only homogenized, but in 1986 became famou The land of "no place" is a corridor of land, where "...villages and hamlets are small islands between forest and bog", between Poland and Russia, once called the kresy by the Poles. The area, or "borderland", though it was never a "political polity" or "possessed any historic notoriety", culturally was very rich and diverse, and in 1925 was inhabited by Poles, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and Russians. Brown writes how over the next 30 years the area not only homogenized, but in 1986 became famous/infamous for being in the Chernobyl zone. Beautifully and forcefully written and with great insight. With ancestry traced to the region, for me it was an extra fascinating read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Willardson

    This book was a fascinating new look at what is now Central Ukraine, but which for centuries has been a borderland between different empires, states, cultures, and religions. The story that is woven here is mostly about the ways that the Soviets tried for two decades to remake the area in various ways - and then how Nazi Germany finished the job. These 30 years turned an ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse region into an ethnically homogeneous area. This book hit home for me in a lot This book was a fascinating new look at what is now Central Ukraine, but which for centuries has been a borderland between different empires, states, cultures, and religions. The story that is woven here is mostly about the ways that the Soviets tried for two decades to remake the area in various ways - and then how Nazi Germany finished the job. These 30 years turned an ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse region into an ethnically homogeneous area. This book hit home for me in a lot of ways. I spent two years of my life living in Eastern Ukraine. My wife's family is originally from the Poltava region of Ukraine. Knowing the history of the atrocities that have afflicted the people of that region over the centuries gives me a deep sense of sorrow and empathy. I am currently living in Kazakhstan working at a University that is part of a larger nationalization project - one that seems to be displacing many of the ethnic minorities that were brought here as a part of the remaking process in the borderlands. This process is less violent, but seeing how history is repeating itself in so many ways is troubling. This is definitely a book that inspires reflection. It is well-written and accessible for non-academic audiences as well, which is definitely a plus.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Meredith Leigh

    There once was a place, a ‘no place’ if you will. A ‘no place that was dominated by a large forest that was filled with several thousand different types of plant life as well as animal life, each one more unique than the last. Outside of that forest was boggy land, which meant the weather around said forest was always a few degrees cooler than elsewhere. And the boggy ground made it harder than usual to plant the usual stock of crops as well. The agelessness of this ‘no place’, worked to its adv There once was a place, a ‘no place’ if you will. A ‘no place that was dominated by a large forest that was filled with several thousand different types of plant life as well as animal life, each one more unique than the last. Outside of that forest was boggy land, which meant the weather around said forest was always a few degrees cooler than elsewhere. And the boggy ground made it harder than usual to plant the usual stock of crops as well. The agelessness of this ‘no place’, worked to its advantage, for it was a borderland. Polish people, German people, Russian People, Jewish People, Ukrainians People among others found peace living side by side one another in small villages. And it remained like that for a long time. However, it was not to last. Famine and war forced those who had called this area their home elsewhere, and soon civilization as well found its way to the ‘no place’. decades later, that no place was more well known for being a literal melting pot, rather than the cultural melting pot it had been just a generation earlier. This ‘No Place’, meaning the borderland between Poland and Russia, is covered in Kate Brown’s, A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland. In her book, she covers how this area, coveted by people displaced by the first world war, thought they had found a new home, but were soon displaced once again by World War Two, and the rise of the Soviet Union, is more well known to people due to it being the area where the Chernobyl disaster happened back in the 1980s. in order to tell the story of this long lost culture, Brown uses not only official sources recently declassified (recent at least when the book was published in 2005) from various European archives, but she also uses first-person narratives, collected from those who had been displaced long ago, and those who still live in that borderland. Brown is wise enough to realize that as a historian, one must consider all sides in a historical conflict, even those written by winners of said conflict (no greater example can be seen in this book than during the final chapter, which discusses at great length the Nazi occupation of the ‘No Place’) I did wish however, she would have taken the time to discuss the Holodomor (the two-year-long famine that swept across the Soviet Union, and the current school of thought is that it was a deliberate act of genocide ordered by Joseph Stalin himself) I mean, if you’re going to discuss all the other bad stuff to happen in that region (Nazi’s, modernization, toxic waste caused by a nuclear power plant melting down) I’m certain there would be time to talk about that. Though if I must admit, Brown probably had real valid reasons to not include that in this book, and whatever they might be, we must respect her for that. Overall, this is the fourth out of eleven books we have to read for this course, and so far, this is probably my favourite one. A well-written book with wonderful research. I can’t wait for what’s in store next week.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    What if the people don't want to imagine their own community? What if they do imagine a community and the state decides they're wrong? Kind of flips Benedict Anderson upside down if you ask me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marta

    Bardzo ciekawa, choć momentami nie lekka w lekturze, książka, którą można zaliczyć do nurtu studiów postkolonialnych. Monoetniczna, monokulturowa Ukraina to wynik kilku "projektów" wyobrażania wspólnot narodowych za pomocą inwentaryzacji. Przez wieki mieszkańcy prawobrzeżnej Ukrainy nie myśleli o sobie w kategoriach narodowych - byli "tutejsi". Najpierw w latach 20. i 30. XX wieku Związek Radziecki zaczął zliczać mniejszości etniczne, domagać się deklaracji i przez to - często wbrew mieszkańcom Bardzo ciekawa, choć momentami nie lekka w lekturze, książka, którą można zaliczyć do nurtu studiów postkolonialnych. Monoetniczna, monokulturowa Ukraina to wynik kilku "projektów" wyobrażania wspólnot narodowych za pomocą inwentaryzacji. Przez wieki mieszkańcy prawobrzeżnej Ukrainy nie myśleli o sobie w kategoriach narodowych - byli "tutejsi". Najpierw w latach 20. i 30. XX wieku Związek Radziecki zaczął zliczać mniejszości etniczne, domagać się deklaracji i przez to - często wbrew mieszkańcom - tworzyć tożsamości narodowe i zwalczać te hybrydowe. Sowieci deportowali "stworzone" uprzednio mniejszości narodowe ze względów klasowych i politycznych, Niemcy podczas drugiej wojny światowej dodatkowo "urasowili" kresy. Istnieje ciągłość między tymi "projektami" - Niemcy wykorzystali narodowościowe spisy przygotowane przez sowietów do robienia czystek rasowych. Te procesy zrodziły między innymi nacjonalizm ukraiński i ideę jednoetnicznej Ukrainy, bez Polaków, Żydów i Niemców. Te projekty nie zostały zarzucone po wojnie - wielkie etniczne czyszczenie Ukrainy i Polski miało miejsce w latach powojennych. Książka powinna nastrajać sceptycznie do kategorii narodu jako kategorii "wymyślonej" przez nowoczesność.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    Amazing, one of my favorite books I've read for school thus far

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    What?!! Cultural identity and nationality are an invention of the state? Used to control individuals for political gain?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marsha

    Excellent.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Beautifully written, but sometimes hard to understand how the stories connected.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Diabeeeetus

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tom

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nibi

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tobias

  16. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Allen

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shaun

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rabia Sirin

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  22. 4 out of 5

    Debra Davidoski

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Weber

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Angela Capobianco

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kara Severson

  28. 4 out of 5

    Inna

  29. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katie Cohen

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