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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

January 16, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

EXIT INTO HISTORY: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe by Eva Hoffman. (Viking: $23; 410 pp.) In 1989, Hoffman, author of "Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language," and all-around book person, gets it into her head to visit Poland, the country she was born in, and to witness history in the making in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria as well. She talks to many people in each country, mostly book people--writers, publishers etc.--but also people on the street, in factories and in small villages. She visits first in 1989-90, then returns to each country a year later. Hoffman is far more interested in how people live and how their lives have changed than she is in clearly outlining the political changes in each country. While trying to sort out Polish anti-semitism, Hoffman remembers that as a child one would never wear a yarmulke in public, while "the current wave of anti-Semitism, in the virtual absence of actual targets, seems to thrive on uncertainty and vagueness-like a transference neurosis, in which a free-floating anxiety is trying, rather impotently, to find an object and a cause." She writes that the Czechs, in the new Eastern Europe, are going to have to start "deconstructing themselves" in their "exit from isolation"; the Hungarians, with their melancholic, heroic natures, will have to shake the schizophrenia that is the result of decades of lying and dodging; the Romanians will have to rise above the terrible humiliations of Ceausescu; and in Bulgaria, where Hoffman finds the greatest continuity between generations and a strong faith still in communism, the Bulgarians will have to trade some of their idealism for a more "individualistic, multivalent" approach to the world.

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