Slovakia: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves and Cameron Hewitt

To learn about Slovakia past and present, check out some of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books

  • Bury Me Standing (Isabel Fonseca, 1996). A literary delve into the world of Eastern European Roma (Gypsies).
  • Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends (Lonnie R. Johnson, 2010). The best historical overview of Eastern Europe.
  • The Habsburgs: The History of a Dynasty (Benjamin Curtis, 2013). Illuminating portrait of the Austrian imperial family that shaped so much of Eastern European history.
  • The Haunted Land (Tina Rosenberg, 1996). Dense but thought-provoking work that asks how those who actively supported communist regimes should be treated in the postcommunist age.
  • History of the Present and The Magic Lantern (Timothy Garton Ash, 2000/1990). Two of several good "eyewitness account" books by Ash that analyze the transition in Central and Eastern Europe from the late 1980s through the 1990s.
  • Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944–1956 (Anne Applebaum, 2012). Readable account of how the Soviets exerted their influence on the nations they had just liberated from the Nazis. Applebaum's Gulag: A History delves into one particularly odious mechanism they used to intimidate their subjects.
  • The Twelve Little Cakes (Dominika Dery, 2004). Traces the author's childhood growing up in communist Czechoslovakia in the 1970s.
  • We Are the Romani People (Ian Hancock, 2002). A good textbook-style source of information on the often misunderstood Roma people.
  • The Year that Changed the World (Michael Meyer, 2009). Intimate chronicle of the exciting events of 1989.

Films

  • Burning Bush (2013). Miniseries detailing the communist occupation of Czechoslovakia and the Prague Spring, focusing on Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself on fire and died in protest against the Soviet occupation.
  • Closely Watched Trains (1966). Jirí Menzel's Oscar-winner following a young Czech man working at a German-occupied train station during World War II.
  • The Firemen's Ball (1967). Miloš Forman's satirical look at small-town Czechoslovakia under communism.
  • In the Shadow (2012). Mystery tracking a burglary in 1950s Czechoslovakia that sets off a political investigation of Jewish immigrants and a detective's struggle for justice under German prosecutors.
  • I Served the King of England (2006). Jirí Menzel's adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal's novel, wherein a man reminisces about his past as an ambitious waiter who suffers the consequences of World War II.
  • Kolya (1996). Oscar-winner about a concert-cellist in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia who must care for an abandoned Russian boy.
  • Loves of a Blonde (1965). Also directed by Miloš Forman; explores the relationship between a rural Czech woman and a jazz pianist from Prague.
  • Zlateh the Goat (Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1966). Newbery Honor book telling seven folktales of Jewish Eastern Europe.

Two acclaimed German movies offer excellent insight into the surreal and paranoid days of the Soviet Bloc. The Oscar-winning Lives of Others (2006) chronicles the constant surveillance that the communist regime employed to keep potential dissidents in line. For a funny and nostalgic look at post-communist Europe's fitful transition to capitalism, Good Bye Lenin! (2003) can't be beat.


Cameron Hewitt is the co-author of the Rick Steves Eastern Europe guidebook.