Reviews of Books

Prussians and Picts

Friday 24 February 2012 The Times Literary Supplement, Christopher Clark
Vanished Kingdoms

The book is always aware of how our relationship to these places has changed. Some locations that were once at the heart of flourishing polities are now languishing in obscurity. My favourite example is the town of Halych and Galych in what is now west Ukraine, which one gave its name to Galicia, which in turn became the heartland of the Habsburg Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (1773-1918). This town, founded in the late Middle Ages, was an important centre of orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism, a refuge for Jews of the Karaite sect, and in later days an important way station on the Dniester railway line to Stanislavov, Chernovtsy and Moldavian Kishinev. And now? Let me quote from Davies’s account of a day trip to Halych:

We drive into town, crossing the new concrete bridge over the Dniester, and passing a [vehicle] with a tethered foal trotting behind. The square is spacious, dusty, windblown and almost deserted… A tiny goose-pond shimmers… This is not just a country town, but a town with a patch of countryside right in the middle of it. A small gaggle of men are sitting or squatting in the shade, waiting for something to happen. A couple of them struggle to their feet to watch us arrive. A Renault Espace with plates from L’viv provides them with the event of the morning. We rumble over the cobbles round three sides of the square until we reach a shady parking place near the local reception committee. Two dilapidated vehicles nearby look more abandoned than parked. Nothing moves. We climb out to take our bearings. Halych does not look the least bit historic. It appears to have been hit by a cyclone…

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