This reading list excerpted from Lonely Planet's guide to Eastern Europe provides an interesting introduction to the complexities and idiosyncrasies of Eastern Europe as a region.
Stalin’s Nose by Rory Maclean. Immediately following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Rory Maclean set out on a journey in a Trabant from Berlin to Moscow, accompanied by his aunt and her pet pig. His hilarious account captures the quirks of postcommunist Europe at an exceptional time in history – after the wall but before the mall.
Café Europa: Life after Communism by Slavenka Drakulic. This book, by a Croat journalist, comments on the rush for Eastern Europe to become Western Europe. Born of a communist father, married to a Swede and now living in Vienna, Drakulic has a unique perspective on the changes sweeping the region in the 1990s. This book follows on her earlier collection of essays, How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, published in 1992.
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman. A well-documented account of one Polish family’s heroic efforts to shelter Jews fleeing the Warsaw ghetto. The biographical account also shares Ackerman’s own impressions as she returns to Poland 50 years after her story transpired.
Guerrilla Radio by Matthew Collin. This is a riveting, informative account of the music-lovers turned political rebels who ran an independent radio station during the Milošević era in Serbia. Collin’s personal interactions and interviews with the founders of the station make this a fascinating read.
Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. Eastern Europe’s culturally rich Roma people are explored in this history, travelogue and cultural guide. It’s a deeply moving account of Roma trying to retain their culture in postcommunist, nationalist Eastern Europe.
Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean. The wry wit and derring-do of Fitzroy Maclean is on display in this firsthand account of his adventures as a British diplomat and dynamite in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. Maclean plays the role of diplomat, soldier, spy and all-around adventurer; some claim he inspired Ian Fleming’s character of Bond, James Bond.
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West. This is a huge, unclassifiable look at the Balkans on the eve of WWII through the eyes of Brit Rebecca West as she makes her way through Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania and Croatia in 1937. This fascinating, poetic account is still considered a travel literature classic.
Another Fool in the Balkans by Tony White. Sixty years after Rebecca West’s journey, White retraces her footsteps, paying tribute to her in this collection of essays. He explores the region’s history and cultures in attempt to make sense of the contemporary conflict.
Hidden Macedonia by Christopher Deliso. This engaging travelogue records a journey around the great Macedonian lakes of Ohrid and Prespa, and the three countries that share them: Greece, Albania and Macedonia.
To the Baltic with Bob by Griff Rhys Jones. For a light-hearted read, try this account of sailing from the UK to St Petersburg via the canals of Eastern Europe. Written by British TV comedian Griff Rhys Jones, it’s eccentric and grumpy but good fun.
More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.