Friday, February 8, 2013

Rereading The Twelve Little Cakes by Dominika Dery

The Twelve Little CakesA year before I was born, I started turning up in my mother's dreams. She would go to sleep and I would appear before her: a happy little girl in a time of great unhappiness. 

I love, love, love this memoir of growing up in Communist Czechoslovakia. It's both funny and thoughtful, full of humor, and information, too. The author, Dominika Dery, grew up in the 1970's and 80's in a Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia. This is the story of her childhood, filled with funny anecdotes. Communism "was like an old dragon that would occasionally crawl out from its cave and eat someone for dinner. As long as it wasn't you the dragon was eating, you could live with the sound of screams in the distance." Her dog, Barry, was famous and was on television. Her mother was the disowned daughter of wealthy Communist elitists, one of whom was the "Red Countess". Her father semi-illegally drove a taxi. But everything was semi-illegal; you just had to have a combination of the right connections and money, and then you could get away with it. And her sister Klara was very popular with the boys.

Yet despite the dictatorship, dignity and love survived; in fact, flourished. And overall, Dominika had a happy childhood, marred only by a few tragedies. The reason that I love memoirs are that they both read like fiction, and (hopefully) teach you something about history. The Twelve Little Cakes is both of these things, and it does both very skillfully. Though some of the stories are a bit too absurd to be true, the form of memoir allows that. It allows you to twist the facts, fictionalize a bit, whereas (correct me if I'm wrong), an autobiography is basically a truthful account of your life. Though obviously, nothing can ever be completely truthful, and you're bound to be biased about your own life.

The title refers to these little pastries that the author loved as a child, and that she would buy at the bakery. It was a good title, and kind of summed up the essence of her childhood. Each of the chapters is named after a different kind of cake.

My favorite anecdote from this book was probably when Dominika's family is having their house renovated, and these so-called workers (who are actually government informers) show up. It was hilarious, because even though the family knew they were spies, Dominika's father took advantage of the situation and worked them really hard. In the end, all of them quit. My least favorite anecdote was about her time in the hospital, not because it was poorly written or anything, but because it was scary, and not at all fun to read. However, it did provide a stark portrayal of the root of what's wrong with Communism. It may sound all right in principle, but it never works (in my opinion).

At any rate, I would highly recommend this excellent memoir, and it's a shame that it's out of stock on Amazon. Someone needs to do a reissue.

Read The Twelve Little Cakes:
  • if you like memoir
  • if you like books set in Czechoslovakia
  • if you like books that deal with Communism
370 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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