Few books detail the suffering of the Polish people during and after the Second World War. That being the case, I'm grateful that Anne Applebaum researched and wrote this book as the information contained therein is rare and valuable. I found her description of the Eastern European social context at the close of the war to be especially so.
She treats horrors visited upon the Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Czechs, Germans, and Jews with incredible clarity and with a rare touch that brings context to those horrors and allows for an appreciation of suffering by one or other group that does not diminish horrors visited upon others.
Her work here is admirable.
Unfortunately, the book does not hang together especially well.
She structures the book in chapters each describing a component of Soviet occupation (Policemen, Violence, Ethnic Cleansing, Radio, Politics...). Each of these components combine to create a context within which Soviet occupation was able to take root, grow in influence, and "flower" into its particular flavor of totalitarianism.
Each chapter then contains a series of anecdotes that describe how the chapter subject was realized in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
In theory, the above structure could work well, but I had trouble with it in this book.
Any overarching thread felt subsumed by anecdotes. Chapters launch into episodes about Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia but without a clear sense of how each anecdote or episode fits into a larger thesis. Some chapters have a closing few sentences that draw back to a central notion, but while reading, I lost a sense of what about a given anecdote was important. And then, without a paragraph to help put the story just heard into a broader framework, another anecdote would follow. So I was left with a collection of stories without a concrete feeling of why each was important or how it fit into a broader picture.
The author has done quite a bit of research and she's eager to demonstrate it through the inclusion of quite a bit of detail. I wish she would have provided more interpretation of that detail to lend the book greater coherence.
I will recommend this book to friends and colleagues because its subject is so important and books about it are so scarce. I will however not recommend it unreservedly.
The narrator is capable and improves after the opening section which is made up of a series of quotes. Unfortunately, her pronunciation of Polish place names is frustratingly mediocre, as though she didn't approach their pronunciation seriously. Aside from that, she improves over the course of the reading and is not unpleasant. This is not an easy book to narrate and the narrator does pretty well to lend shape to text that hasn't much shape on its own.
She deserves 4 stars in general, but her pronunciation mistakes are so careless that I remove a star.
The subject of the book is important enough to lift the "overall" star score though its realization here is imperfect.
It's a worthwhile read.