The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

This illustrated children's book (56 pages) was published in August of 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book takes you to Communist-era Czechoslovakia. David read The Wall and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

The Wall

Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Peter Sís

We’ve read many memoirs about life behind the Iron Curtain, and this slender, illustrated New York Times best seller packs more emotional wallop than 400 pages of text can.

Peter Sís tells his story through illustrations, concise text, and excerpts from his personal diary. The art — mostly black and white illustrations with vibrant splashes of color — appear quite whimsical at first glance, but look closer, and you’ll see the burdens of living under a dictatorial regime. So many red stars and flags.

In the 1960s, Czechoslovakia enjoyed a looser style of Communism than their neighbors to the east. Teenagers like Sís learned about rock’n’roll, bought blue jeans, grew out their hair, and drank Coca-Cola. But in August of 1968, the Soviets invaded the country and crushed this rebellious free spirit.

But this story of Prague — which covers the period from post-WWII until 1998 — is not heavy. It’s sobering, sometimes shocking, informative, but ultimately, hopeful and defiant. The snippets of the diary from his youth are evidence that everyday life found a way, even under the constraints of Soviet-style Communism.

“He was painting dreams… and the nightmares. The dreams could be kept to himself, but the drawings could be used against him. He stopped drawing and was left with only his dreams.” — Peter Sís

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