Monday 30 July 2012
Tony Connelly, Don't Mention the Wars
Stereotyping is just as entertaining as it is dangerous. We all do it, consciously or not. Some people use it for furthering ugly agendas - politicians would be the most obvious example. Others, those with love for political correctness, claim it should be forbidden altogether - as if that was at all possible!
I bet that by now I managed to conjure a few unpleasant associations in your head, but stereotyping is not all ugly and Don't Mention the Wars is a proof.
The book is subtitled A journey through European stereotypes and this is exactly what it is. Not all the countries got invited, only Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland. Each chapter consists of a historical sketch and a handful of trivia organised around a central leitmotif.
Let me be frank - Don't Mention the Wars is one, big, colourful yarn. It's extremely readable, engaging and as entertaining as a book can be. I wasn't bored for a second and greedily turned page after page, devouring the book in a few hours. A fantastic read! Only... don't believe anything it says.
I kind of suspected exaggeration here and there, but only when I got to the final chapter on Poland, my home country, I could really judge the information with any certainty. Factual or spelling mistakes happen here and there, but I can forgive that easily. What did piss me off was the skewed emphasis, a tiny fragment taken from the nation's reality and blown out of any proportions. Example? You would never say this after reading Don't Mention the Wars, but Poland is full of people who don't give a damn about the Pope. I bet other nationalities could give their own examples here.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not condemning the book. I stand by my claim that it is a charming page turner, light-hearted and entertaining. Just please remember - this is a book about stereotypes, not about reality.