This is a remarkable book. Just published in August of this year. It is a clear, frank, chilling depiction, – from Sis’s own childhood – of what life in Prague, Czechoslovakia was like. Children see, and notice, and understand the thousand of tiny details that make up daily life. And the tyranny of Communism in Eastern Europe was all about controlling the thousands of tiny details that make up daily life. Sis’s drawings are simple sketches, in drab black & white, punctuated by spots of shocking red that show the ubiquitous, intimidating presence of the oppressive state. Adults who did not personally experience the fear of tyranny (or who have never listened to someone who did) will find this a simple, but powerful introduction to what it really was like behind the Iron Curtain.
Not only does Sis give us sketches of his childhood memories, he also includes diary entries that he wrote as a young adult in reaction to the events of the 1950s and 1960s.
This would make a great book to read with your children as you cover 20th century history for the first time – whether that’s in 6th, 7th, or 12th grade.
Of particular interest to students of the 1960s is the role that popular music and western fashion played in resistance to Communist oppression.
Bits and pieces of news from the West begin to slip through the Iron Curtain.
The Beatles! (which one is which?)
Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Radio Luxembourg . . . We secretly tape songs.
Everything from the West seems colorful and desirable.
Slowly he started to question. He painted what he wanted to – in secret.
Rock music is against the principles of Socialist art.
He joined a rock group and painted music.
I lived in Europe in the 1970s. And I visited Prague, Warsaw, and East Berlin in 1976. It was dreary and depressing. And the state seemed all-powerful and immovable. We saw no possible end in sight, short of an apocalyptic war – which was dreadful to contemplate. When the Wall came down in 1989 it was surprising, shocking, and made me deliriously happy!
I spoke with Christians in East Germany in the 1970s and their plight was horrible. Christians were systematically scorned and sidelined. In East Germany, if a Christian teen-ager chose to be confirmed as an adult member of a church, he was not eligible for membership in the “Free German Youth” – the equivalent of the “Young Pioneers” in the USSR or Czechoslovakia. Choosing to be identified as a Christian meant (with certainty) that one would not be admitted to the university, or ever have the opportunity to be other than a menial laborer. In spite of this, the church did not just survive, it became the focus of resistance to the government.
Here’s the text from the back cover: “He was born in the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth at the start of the Cold War. In his graphic memoir, Peter Sis tells what life was like for a boy who loved to draw and make music, who joined the Young Pioneers, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, passed Louis Armstrong in a snowstorm, longed for blue jeans and Beatles-style boots, let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, listened to jammed radio, and traveled with the Beach Boys when they toured Czechoslovakia. Peter Sis’s story of growing up under a totalitarian regime proves that creativity can be discouraged but not easilty killed and that the desire to be free came naturally to a generation of young people behind the Iron Curtain.”
Buy this book and read it with your children. Because we should never forget how precious freedom is. click here to go to the catalog page at the Greenleaf Press store.