Let’s start with a bad translation of the title, to give you an idea what it’s about: Polish ghostology: Things and people in the years of transformation. A bad one, I know… but bear with me.
The years of transformation in Poland denote the period when communism ended and democracy started, there are no strict dates to demarcate this period, but by a rule of thumb, we may place it somewhere between 1987 and 1993. It was a turbulent period, but also one where people were still trying to live a normal life and aspired to the ‘western’ standards. It was an end but also a beginning, a new country and society looking for its shape.
Drenda tells the story of this period through her own memories, memories of others, through things and pictures. At the time of the transformation, Drenda was a child (so was I and maybe that’s why this book resonated with me) so her own memories are often tinged with childish nostalgia, that she explores and tries to verify. She starts with the photographs, noticing that all the pictures from that time have something like a sunny filter. They all are yellow, making every single day look like a summer day, and unless Polish weather has also undergone a profound transformation this simply is not possible. She investigates the film used but also finds artists who use this effect on purpose.
We then move on to explore the ways of living during the transformation period. With everyone crammed into tiny communist apartments, aiming at making them cosy in all possible ways with minimal means. Ingenuity in using space must have been at its peak back then, but people never stopped dreaming of having more. As the furniture was often in short supply and of horrible quality, creativity often took over. DYI or street-smarts were the only way to get what one wanted. From there Drenda proceeds to ponder the toys, music, visual culture and festivals of that time.
It is a book aimed at a specific reader, someone who lived through this time, even if as a child. It is sentimental but also lays bare all the shortcomings of that time. The constant lack of certainty, money, the permanent change. On one hand, exhilarating on the other a bit corny and funny when we look at it from the current perspective. It also made me realize that our times in 20-30 years may seem equally entertaining.
Drenda takes us on an interesting journey to a time that will not happen again when the political transformation was so deep it impacted every facet of life. The culture and way of living were deeply changed and she tries to capture that change. By default, it is sentimental for me, as it reminds me of my childhood as well. I would not want to go back to those times, but isn’t it nice to remember them from time to time?
The cover itself was a lovely treat: the top layer is simple and dark, but when you take off the top, the actual cover is a picture of Thomas and Dieter from Modern Talking. It really made me laugh.