Nov 162012

In her book, A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism, Slavenka Drakulic uses small animals to tell the reader about the realities of life under the Soviet Union.  Drakulic, who was born in occupied Croatia, has written extensively about Communism and life in the USSR, and has also published other books like this one, which use fiction to tell about the realities of life under an oppressive regime.
In this book, your guides include a mouse, a parrot, a bear, a cat, a mole, a pig, a dog, and a raven.  Each of these animals tells a different story, with the mouse living in a history classroom and the talking parrot belonging to a brutal Marshal from now-divided Yugoslavia.  Using animals to tell about the horror and banality of the USSR seems silly, but the stories that are told by the animal narrators really serve to bring to light many of the facets of the USSR and the countries that came out of it in a way that people from the West in general, and the United States in particular,  might not have previously thought about.

Koki, the parrot, tells the reader “in order to impress them even more, he lived in the former king’s palace in Belgrade.  A Communist revolutionary living in a palace; that is what I call not only stylish but smart.  After all, his people were used to being ruled in a monarchic tradition, no?”  In this small space, the parrot helps the reader to understand the ways in which the rich and the leaders in the Soviet Union took the best and the most valuable possessions and properties for themselves, and how they justified that action.

In another section, the mouse asks the visitor to the museum to “think of how people lived — hundreds of millions of them — with a feeling that an interrogation room had been installed in their brains.  You could not see it, but it was there… The system of surveillance and self-control lives off fear and suspicion.  It is a simple and efficient psychological mechanism that turns people into liars — and, therefore, into accomplices of the regime”  This section gets at the the idea of self-censorship and how it worked in the Soviet Union in a rare and clear manner.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for information about what really happened in the USSR.  It is fiction, so it won’t give you a timeline or a series of dry facts, but it will provide a window into the minds of the people of the Soviet Union and how they suffered under and survived Communism.