Slavenka Drakulic - A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism
What a great idea for a book!
Pets and other animals talking about the bestialities of human communism in the former Eastern Bloc countries. A well-documented and often entertaining approach to well known and less well known facts that truly happened from East Berlin to Moscow passing through Budapest, Prague, Warsaw, Bucarest.
Giving voice to mice and cats, dogs and bears, ravens and parrots with each animal talking about its own country was indeed a work of genius.
Most of those who reviewed this book mentioned the 'Orwellian approach' or 'inspiration' of Mrs Drakulic, but I think otherwise. She's truly original and independent in her own work here so that the comparison with the author of Animal Farm doesn't stand a chance. To me the closest this book gets to is rather The Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin. But then again, unlike Pelevin, Drakulic doesn't insist on metaphors and camouflages: her animals are actual animals from the beginning to the end of their chapters (with one significant exception). Well done, Slavenka!
And yet A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism' (let me catch my breathe) falls short of what I expected. Whilst I did appreciate some of the episodes, others were just not at the same level and, in my humble opinion, out of place in the context.
I particularly liked the stories of the mole talking about people digging tunnels from East Berlin and West Berlin, the one about the rabid dogs issue in Bucarest seen from a canine perspective and the musings of General Jaruzelski's pussycat.
One of the reasons why these three 'fables' really work and stand out here is that they achieve a perfect balance between the human-animal narrative and the historical significance.
On the contrary I found unexplicable the choice to have a real woman, Magda, introducing herself as a 'Hungarian pig' in the chapter entitled - sic! - From Gulag to Goulash*. Putting aside the non convincing story itself, why not giving voice to an actual sow? Was that too complicated? The contradiction here with this one and only episode not being narrated by an animal is so evident that I'm inclined to think that Mrs Drakulic did that on purpose. But for what purpose, I wonder? Who knows.
The human-animal denouement is not broken anywhere else, but a couple of stories are just too long a monologue to be consistent (Tito's parrot, the chaperoning mouse in Prague) with the final result of putting their interesting animal perspective at risk with the author's voice popping up.
That being said, I reckon how Slavenka Drakulic did a good job here. I got hooked to this thin but important book and overall enjoyed it. The fables I read taught me some episodes I was not aware of and reinforced my knowledge of other topics I had already heard about.
*The tragedy is that back in 1996, the uncouth leader of the Northern League party in Italy did call the gulags 'goulash' in a public speech.