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Paulina Bren Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

The Greengrocer and His TV (2010)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free (2021)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Anthologies

Transnational Moments of Change: Europe 1945, 1968, 1989(2004)Description / Buy at Amazon
Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe(2012)Description / Buy at Amazon

Paulina Bren
Paulina Bren is a historian and writer. She was born in Czechoslovakia in the city of Brno, however her life trajectory unexpectedly veered when the Soviet Warsaw Pact army invaded shortly after. Her family fled to England, and moved to America another ten years later.

Paulina has her PhD in History from New York University and her BA in the College of Letters from Wesleyan University, an MA in International Studies from the University of Washington.

She writes narrative nonfiction with an emphasis on excavating women’s lives and the spaces that they occupied.

She teaches at Vassar College, where she’s Adjunct Professor of Multidisciplinary Studies on the Pittsburgh Endowment Chair in the Humanities, and the director of the Women, Feminist, and Queer Studies Program.

Paulina has received many fellowships and grants, which include the National Council of East European and Eurasian Research, the National Endowment for Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Fulbright Hays. She’s also held residencies at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University, the American Academy in Berlin, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Budapest.

“The Greengrocer and his TV” is a non-fiction book that was released in 2011. The 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia brought the Prague Spring to an end and its promise of “socialism with a human face”. Czech reformers, before the invasion, had made unexpected use of television in order to advance social and political change. In its aftermath, Communist Party leaders employed the medium in order to achieve “normalization”, pitching TV stars against political dissidents in a televised spectacle which defined the times.

This book offers up a new cultural history of communism from the Prague Spring up to the Velvet Revolution which reveals how state endorsed ideologies were played on TV, especially through soap opera like serials. In focusing on the small screen, Paulina looks to the “normal” part of normalization, to the everyday experience of late communism.

The figure central to Paulina’s book is the greengrocer that, in a seminal essay by Vaclav Havel, symbolized the ordinary citizen that acquiesced to the communist regime out of fear. Paulina challenges simplistic dichotomies of fearful acquiescence and brave dissent to dramatically reconfigure that which we know, or believe we know, about everyday life under communism during the 1970s and 1980s.

Deftly moving between the street, the screen, and the Central Committee (as well as imaginatively drawing on a wide range of sources which include radio programs, newspapers, TV shows, TV viewers’ letters, the underground press, and Communist Party archives), Paulina illustrates how Havel’s greengrocer actually experienced “normalization” and the ways that popular TV serials framed this experience.

Now returning by popular demand, socialist era series, like “The Thirty Adventures of Major Zeman” and “The Woman Behind the Counter”, provide a way of seeing (both figuratively and literally) Eastern Europe’s true socialism and Czechoslovakia’s normalization.

“The Greengrocer and his TV” was shortlisted for the 2011 Wayne S. Vucinich Prize and won the Council for European Studies Book Prize and the Austrian Studies Association Book Prize.

“Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe” is a non-fiction book that was released in 2012. This book reveals the complex world of consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe, exploring the ways that people ate, smoked, shopped, drank, cooked, acquired, assessed, and exchanged goods.

These everyday experiences, the contributors and editors argue, were central to the ways that communism was lived in its widely varied contexts in this region. From production to design to retail sales and black market exchange, this book follows communist goods from producer to consumer, tracing their circuitous routes.

In the communist world this journey was rife with its own meanings, which were shaped by the special social and political circumstances of these societies. In examining consumption behind the Iron Curtain, this tome brings dimension and nuance to comprehensions of the communist period and the history of consumerism.

“The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free” is a non-fiction book that was released in 2021. Here is the remarkable history of New York’s most famous residential hotel and all the women that stayed there, including Joan Didion, Sylvia Plath, and Grace Kelly. Welcome to the Barbizon, New York’s legendary hotel for women.

Liberated after WWI from hearth and home, women flocked to New York City during the Roaring Twenties. However even while women’s residential hotels became the fashion, the Barbizon stood out; it was designed for the young women with artistic aspirations, and included soundproofed practice rooms and soaring art studios. More importantly still, without any men allowed beyond the lobby, the Barbizon signaled respectability, a place where a young woman of a certain class could feel at home.

However while the stock market crashed and the Great Depression set in, the clientele changed, even though women’s ambitions didn’t; the Barbizon became the go to destination for any young American woman with a dream to be something more. As Sylvia Plath most famously fictionalized her time there in “The Bell Jar”, the Barbizon was also where Molly Brown (Titanic survivor) sang her final aria; where Jaclyn Smith and Ali MacGraw found their calling as actresses; where Grace Kelly danced topless in the hallways. Where Joan Didion got her first taste of Manhattan. Students of the prestigious Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School had three whole floors to themselves, Eileen Ford used the hotel as a guest house for her youngest models, and Mademoiselle magazine boarded all of its summer interns there, including Betsey Johnson, a young designer.

The first ever history of this extraordinary hotel, and of the women that arrived in New York City alone from “elsewhere” with just a dream and a suitcase, this offers readers a multilayered history of NYC in the 20th century, and about the generations of American women torn between their looming social expiration date and their desire for independence. By providing women with a room of their own, this was the hotel that set them free.

The book has been translated into Russian, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Hungarian, and Chinese. It was selected as a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, an Amazon Editor’s Pick for “Best History”, and got an amazing window display at London’s famous Hatchards’ Bookstore, where it was the Featured Book of the Month for April 2021.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Paulina Bren

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