I’ve always found the history of Eastern Europe difficult to come to grips with compared to Western Europe.
The history and culture of Spain, France and Italy seem to fall within clearly defined boundaries. We know what French or Italian food is, with all its regional variations, and we have a sense of French and Italian film or literature.
Eastern Europe is different.
Its borders blend and shift together, and even the cuisine bears striking similarities — everyone seems to have a variation on goulash, cold soups, and cabbage rolls.
The more I’ve travelled on the continent, the more my interest has shifted east, to a region that looks increasingly complex the deeper you delve into it.
I reached out to Jacob Mikanowski to help us understand its empires, faiths, stories and nations.
Jacob is the author of Goodbye Eastern Europe: An Intimate History of a Divided Land. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, The New York Times, Atlas Obscura, Slate and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications.
We spoke about frontier societies, plagues of vampires, and the gift of seeing comedy amidst tragedy.