Tuesday, June 20, 2017
The Magic Lantern 
The legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson had a near-telepathic ability to be at what he famously referred to as the “decisive moment”. The same epithet can easily be applied to what the political-historian Timothy Garton Ash accomplished with The Magic Lantern, his seminal journalistic account of the Revolutions of 1989 in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague which he personally witnessed in varying degrees (he covered Bucharest and Sofia too, albeit briefly, as he wasn’t there in person). He was there in Warsaw when Solidarity, the labour union founded by Lech Wałęsa in 1980 at a shipyard in Gdansk, made a historic clean-sweep at the first wave of parliamentary elections conceded by the powers-that-be – a victory that, along with Gorbachev’s Perestroika, accelerated the domino effect across the Soviet Bloc; he was there in Budapest when, in a surprising acknowledgement of the crackdown of 1956 uprising, the authorities allowed the epoch-making formal funeral of Imre Nagy – which saw over 100,000 Hungarians congregating at Heroes’ Square – 3 decades after his execution; he was there in Berlin when, in an incredible display of freedom, a horde of East Berliners walked into the West across the Berlin Wall – arguably the most visible symbol of the Cold War – and he was there walking alongside them; and he was very much there in Prague when a motley group of intellectuals – most of them banned post to the demise of Prague Spring – led by Václav Havel, made the Magic Lantern Theatre their assembly, and led the disbanding of the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. His fascinating first-hand chronicle of these extraordinary times, when the string of near non-violent revolution (or “refolution”, in his portmanteau of ‘reform’ and ‘revolution’) brought the Cold War to its end, was interspersed with his attempts at deciphering and deconstructing what possibly sparked these mass movements and what might potentially follow them – making this book both an absorbing here-and-now non-fiction reportage and a work of immense significance for historians, political scientists and interested folks like me alike.
Author: Timothy Garton Ash
Genre: Non-Fiction/Political History/Journalism