Let’s imagine that a friend of ours, a book designer, calls us to ask for help. He has only just begun to work on a design for a book on the history of Eastern and Central European culture under Communism. For the book’s front and back covers, he needs a pair of really striking archival shots, two haunting images that would bracket, by their mutual contrast, twentieth-century culture’s most demanding test and probably crucial experience, the seventy-odd-year-long story of Communist rule over that part of Europe. Could we suggest something?

As far as I’m concerned, for such a pair of visual brackets I would definitely recommend not the worn-out pictures of the salvo of the cruiser Aurora and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall but something much less expected: two photographs, each showing a writer who had accepted an important position within his country’s structure of power, and each capturing the...


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