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  • The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

    Author(s):
    Pages: 256
    Illustrations: 57 illustrations
    Sales/Territorial Rights: World
  • Cloth: $89.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-5823-7
  • Paperback: $24.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-5835-0
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  • List of Maps and Illustrations ix

    Prologue. Communism 2.0? xi

    A Note on Transliteration xxi

    Part I. The Way We Remember the Past Determines Our Dreams for the Future

     1. The Mysterious Major Frank Thompson 3

    2. A Communist by Any Other Name . . . 11

    3. "I Simply Want to Fight" 21

    4. The Brothers Lagadinov 34

    5. A Failed Petition 41

    6. Lawrence of Bulgaria? 49

    7. Ambushed in Batuliya 57

    8. Guerillas in the Mist 63

    9. Everyday Life as a Partisan 69

    10. Blood of a Poet 84

    11. The Head Hunted 90

    12. Words of One Brother on the Death of Another 97

    Part II. The Remains of the Regime

    13. The Retired Partisan 101

    14. A Woman's Work Is Never Done 113

    15. History Is Written by the Victors 126

    16. On Censorship and the Secret Police 134

    17. The Politics of Truth 144

    18. Cassandra's Curse 151

    19. The Red Samaritan 155

    20. The Past Is a Foreign Country 165

    21. A Moment of Redemption 176

    Conclusion. On the Outskirts of Litakovo 187

    Acknowledgments 201

    Notes 205

    Selected Bibliography 219

    Index 225
  • 2015 Honorable Mention for the Heldt Prize for the Best Book in Slavic and East European Women’s Studies from the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS)

  • “Ghodsee turns Thompson’s life and the equally heroic story of three Bulgarian brothers and their 14-year-old sister, who were also part of the resistance, into a gentle, reflective exploration of the idealism that drove them, despite the barbarity that many communists had already glimpsed in Stalin’s Soviet Union.”

    "Wonderful.... History looks very different if you fought for national liberation and human progress under the banner of Communism.... To understand ... modern Bulgarians ..., you must enter their world of human self-sacrifice."

    “History meets ethnography, all delivered in an absorbing, novelistic style.”

    The Left Side of History is a stimulating study and a delightful read. It should provoke other fearless ones to collaborate in solving the major mysteries of our time: what was communism really like, and why did it end in an array of countries, but not everywhere?”

    “Through a careful sifting of archival material, interviews and personal recollections, the book aims to be much more than a scholarly text, but a self-reflexive personal interaction between the author and these personal histories of communism that recent pro-capitalist discourses have pushed aside. …[I]f we want to follow the author’s crucial proposition and analyse communism as a shared socially structured experience, and if we wish to focus on the social configurations that rendered political experiences communal, that made Frank Thompson’s intimate choices part of a collective undertaking, such a historical analysis of left-wing communities may prove essential; not least because it might help us in better understanding the dynamics of developing a critical social movement in Eastern Europe today.”

    “[Ghodsee’s] skills as a seasoned ethnographer and “part-time” Bulgarian resident shine in her astute analysis of the cultural and social circumstances that account for what has become the convoluted and highly controversial history of communism. … The Left Side of History is a remarkable account of Bulgaria’s current history of triumph and despairs, wrapped in the aspirations, hopes, and tragic failures of humans. It is told with astute historical accuracy and striking intimacy concerning the personal stories of Bulgarian communist activists, as well as ordinary people whose lives were indelibly marked by the rise and demise of communism.”

    "If you think that the study of Communism is boring, you are wrong. Kristen Ghodsee has written an eyeopening and entertaining story of how Communism came to Bulgaria and how the average citizen suffered when socialism was replaced by the free market economy.

    "Kristen Ghodsee tells a tragic and beautiful story. She leaves aside broader political and diplomatic history and concentrates on personal stories. In this way she makes interesting contributions to the existing academic studies regarding the resistance movement in Bulgaria and the period of communist rule."

    Awards

  • 2015 Honorable Mention for the Heldt Prize for the Best Book in Slavic and East European Women’s Studies from the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS)

  • Reviews

  • “Ghodsee turns Thompson’s life and the equally heroic story of three Bulgarian brothers and their 14-year-old sister, who were also part of the resistance, into a gentle, reflective exploration of the idealism that drove them, despite the barbarity that many communists had already glimpsed in Stalin’s Soviet Union.”

    "Wonderful.... History looks very different if you fought for national liberation and human progress under the banner of Communism.... To understand ... modern Bulgarians ..., you must enter their world of human self-sacrifice."

    “History meets ethnography, all delivered in an absorbing, novelistic style.”

    The Left Side of History is a stimulating study and a delightful read. It should provoke other fearless ones to collaborate in solving the major mysteries of our time: what was communism really like, and why did it end in an array of countries, but not everywhere?”

    “Through a careful sifting of archival material, interviews and personal recollections, the book aims to be much more than a scholarly text, but a self-reflexive personal interaction between the author and these personal histories of communism that recent pro-capitalist discourses have pushed aside. …[I]f we want to follow the author’s crucial proposition and analyse communism as a shared socially structured experience, and if we wish to focus on the social configurations that rendered political experiences communal, that made Frank Thompson’s intimate choices part of a collective undertaking, such a historical analysis of left-wing communities may prove essential; not least because it might help us in better understanding the dynamics of developing a critical social movement in Eastern Europe today.”

    “[Ghodsee’s] skills as a seasoned ethnographer and “part-time” Bulgarian resident shine in her astute analysis of the cultural and social circumstances that account for what has become the convoluted and highly controversial history of communism. … The Left Side of History is a remarkable account of Bulgaria’s current history of triumph and despairs, wrapped in the aspirations, hopes, and tragic failures of humans. It is told with astute historical accuracy and striking intimacy concerning the personal stories of Bulgarian communist activists, as well as ordinary people whose lives were indelibly marked by the rise and demise of communism.”

    "If you think that the study of Communism is boring, you are wrong. Kristen Ghodsee has written an eyeopening and entertaining story of how Communism came to Bulgaria and how the average citizen suffered when socialism was replaced by the free market economy.

    "Kristen Ghodsee tells a tragic and beautiful story. She leaves aside broader political and diplomatic history and concentrates on personal stories. In this way she makes interesting contributions to the existing academic studies regarding the resistance movement in Bulgaria and the period of communist rule."

  • "The Left Side of History bears witness to Kristen Ghodsee's intellectual courage, analytic gifts, and profound compassion. She offers portraits of people for whom communism was a living ideology, a belief system that compelled self-sacrifice and nobility, and she does this by looking at their actions rather than criticizing or deconstructing their beliefs." — Elizabeth Frank, author of Louise Bogan: A Portrait

    "The marvel of this beautifully written book is to address a complex set of historical questions in intimate and personal terms. It's stunning as ethnography, but also part memoir—an account of Kristen Ghodsee's quest to satisfy her curiosity about the fate of Frank Thompson, a British partisan killed fighting the Nazis in Bulgaria in 1944. The story she ends up telling is much larger: about communism as an aspiration and a political system; about the economic and social impacts of democracy and free markets after 1989; about the preservation and erasure of public memory; about the relationship of individuals to history. It's a small story with vivid characters and a very large resonance. Best of all, it's a gripping and compelling read."
    — Joan W. Scott, Institute for Advanced Study

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  • Description

    In The Left Side of History Kristen Ghodsee tells the stories of partisans fighting behind the lines in Nazi-allied Bulgaria during World War II: British officer Frank Thompson, brother of the great historian E.P. Thompson, and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the armed anti-fascist resistance. But these people were not merely anti-fascist; they were pro-communist, idealists moved by their socialist principles to fight and sometimes die for a cause they believed to be right. Victory brought forty years of communist dictatorship followed by unbridled capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today in democratic Eastern Europe there is ever-increasing despair, disenchantment with the post-communist present, and growing nostalgia for the communist past. These phenomena are difficult to understand in the West, where “communism” is a dirty word that is quickly equated with Stalin and Soviet labor camps. By starting with the stories of people like Thompson and Lagadinova, Ghodsee provides a more nuanced understanding of how communist ideals could inspire ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices.

    About The Author(s)

    Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College and a former Guggenheim Fellow. She is the author of Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism, also published by Duke University Press.
     
Spring 2017
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