'With these vivid, wistful memoirs, he joins the great chroniclers of Europe - the Prousts, Zweigs, Lampedusas, Leigh-Fermors and Bassanis - and shows how some of the things those writers loved persisted as late as 1989.' (Economist)
Selected as a Book of the Year in the TLS and Spectator
In 1979 Richard Bassett set out on a series of adventures and encounters in central Europe which allowed him to savour the last embers of the cosmopolitan old Hapsburg lands and gave him a ringside seat at the fall of another ancien regime, that of communist rule. From Trieste to Prague and Vienna to Warsaw, fading aristocrats, charming gangsters, fractious diplomats and glamorous informants provided him with an unexpected counterpoint to the austerities of life along the Iron Curtain, first as a professional musician and then as a foreign correspondent.
The book shows us familiar events and places from unusual vantage points: dilapidated mansions and boarding-houses, train carriages and cafes, where the game of espionage between east and west is often set. There are unexpected encounters with Shirley Temple, Fitzroy Maclean, Lech Walesa and the last Empress of Austria. Bassett finds himself at the funeral of King Nicola of Montenegro in Cetinje, plays bridge with the last man alive to have been decorated by the Austrian Emperor Franz-Josef and watches the KGB representative in Prague bestowing the last rites on the Soviet empire in Europe.
Music and painting, architecture and landscape, food and wine, friendship and history run through the book. The author is lucky, observant and leans romantically towards the values of an older age. He brilliantly conjures the time, the people he meets, and Mitteleuropa in one of the pivotal decades of its history. Eyewitness anecdotes bring to life the complex criss-crossing history of Mitteleuropa ... a very well-furnished English mind, travelling through Europe at a transformative moment in its history with more than a bit of local knowledge -- Annette Kobak * Times Literary Supplement * This is a gem of a book ... a charming and engaging memoir of a world now gone. -- Clovis Meath Baker * Standpoint * In the 1980s Richard Bassett was "our man" in central Europe, and a high old time he appears to have had. This memoir of that period and those places is nicely crafted and would happily accompany a bottle or two of Holzpur 2004 spread over a couple of winter evenings. -- David Aaronovitch * The Times * As Soviet rule in central Europe collapsed in the late 1980s, newsworthy events, thrillin
Last Days in Old Europe