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How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed Paperback – April 9, 1993

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Drakulic's fine collection of essays draws strength from her keen powers of observation and sensitivity to her readers' interests. Her achievement is to depict the starkly common identity of everyday life in socialist Eastern Europe before its unlamented loss becomes irretrievable. It is a world in which party authority can create the "sudden invisibility" for an offending journalist, where public buildings share a "shabbiness and color of sepia," and one that makes the post office an impenetrable "institution of power." The essays are also about people, about the obsessive " communist eye " (italics original) disturbed by the injustice of New York's homeless yet neurotically envious of those wearing fur coats at home. The tragic irony lies in the book's title. Hoarding material objects enabled people "to survive communism," but hoarding wartime memories and the inability to "let the dead be dead" may destroy the author's native Yugoslavia. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.
- Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ.-Erie
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A poignant and truthful look at what living under Communism was really like, by Croatian journalist and novelist Drakuli. The author, daughter of a former partisan who was a high- ranking Communist army officer, was never a member of the Party herself. Here, she conveys the reality of life under Communism through ordinary but telling detail: the wonder of a man who, for the first time in his life, was able to eat a banana--and ate it skin and all, marveling at its texture; Draculi's own bewilderment at finding fresh strawberries in N.Y.C. in December; the feel of the quality of the paper in an issue of Vogue; the desperate lengths to which women under the Communist regime would go to find cosmetics or clothes or something that would make them feel feminine in a society where such a feeling was regarded as a bourgeois affectation. Drakuli dismisses the argument that Western manufacturers have manipulated these needs: ``To tell us that they are making a profit by exploiting our needs is like warning a Bangladeshi about cholesterol.'' Though herself a feminist, she willingly turns amusing in describing the uncomprehending questions sent to her by a New York editor who asked about the role of feminism in political discourse in Eastern Europe, when there was no political discourse and when feminists were--and apparently still are--regarded as enemies of the people. ``We may have survived Communism,'' Drakuli writes, ``but we have not yet outlived it.'' To the author, Communism is more than an ideology or a method of government--it is a state of mind that is yet to be erased from the collective consciousness of those who have lived under it. A sometimes sad, sometimes witty book that conveys more about politics in Eastern Europe than any number of theoretical political analyses. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 9, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060975407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060975401
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 72 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
I would have given this book three and a half stars if I had the option; but I don't, so I am giving it four, all on account of its good narrative and occasional wit.
I keep hearing and reading about what an "eye-opener" this book has been for readers in Western countries. That is all well and fine; many of the things she describes are valid information.
The problem is that this book, by empathizing (and rightly so) with the everday noodle-and-darning plight of "sisters" in other so-called Communist regimes (all of whom had a MUCH harder time than we in the former Yugoslavia ever did) tends to blur not only the HUGE political and social nuances and distinctions among the various "Communist" countries, but also inside ex-Yugoslavia itself. In short, the so-called Communist "block" was never really a "block" - it was a tapestry of many nuances and textures, depending on the country.
Admittedly, I belong to a different generation than Ms. Drakuliæ. Furthermore, I was born and grew up in the northern part of the country, called Slovenia (now, an independent state), which was, incidentally, the "richest" part of Yugoslavia. (And BTW: I don't recall any of her interlocutors in the book being a Slovene... Why not? Maybe because the situation in Slovenia wouldn't fit in with the utterly dismal picture that she is painting?)
Here are some facts: often, there were (usually short-term) shortages of different things: sugar, bananas, chocolate, detergent... I even remember a shortage of toilet paper, once. But never all at the same time, and never for very long. We never queued, like the unfortunate peoples of the Soviet satellite states. I for one DID have dolls, very pretty ones (no, NOT rag dolls) - 18 of them!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Drakulic is a journalist by trade, and as such has a no-nonsense writing style: stark, factual. She interviewed women of various countries and captured stories of what they endured mentally and physically under communist rule. This is one of my favorite books, one I will read again and again, and which I have given copies of to my friends.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Medina Medeni on August 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
In my opinion, Ms. Drakulic did exaggerate some things related to Yugoslavia (now abstract and gone). I guess this was done for the sake of keeping readers animated and interested in finishing the book. I do agree with the reader from Slovenia, as I was also born in the former Yugoslavia. Yes, we did occasionally have shortage of some items in the 80's, but not to the extent it was presented in this book. Not even close to her book "Cafe Europa", in terms of being informative about the Eastern Block (Warsaw Pact) countries, which by the way, Yugoslavia was never part of. This book will make readers, unfamiliar with the Eastern Europe, think just that.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
Slavenka explores the perplexing lives of Eastern European women living in Communism through her short essays. There is nothing funny about these stories. The author displays how Communism failed its people, and how it failed its women. A visit to Yugoslavia in the 1980's, opened my eyes to the trials these women faced. I lived like these women. I brought with me stockpiles of medicine, sanitary napkins, soap and detergent. These items were impossible to buy and if you could find these items they were outrageously expensive. I washed my clothes by hand, scrubbed them in the basins Slavenka talks about. I walked around with the same fear, the same hopelessness for the future. Live for today, survive today. No bother to worry about tomorrow. This book should be a part of all woman studies programs, it gives insight to the lives of women living in Eastern Block countries. It gives insights to the trials they face and the fear of the future that goes along with it.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read this book while I was living in Prague. Living in Eastern Europe does not automatically ensure an understanding of the people or the culture, and this book was very helpful. The position of women in Eastern Europe (and of course, the world over) is consistently marginalized, so this book is important in that it finally brings the woman's perspective and experience in Eastern Europe out into the open.
The other thing that makes this book extremely worthwhile is that it continues to bring home the difference between Eastern Europe and the West. As a woman from the US, it was impossible for me to conceive of and understand these women's experiences, and where those experiences have brought them today. It becomes very easy, in the interests of simplification, to essentialize the experiences of all european women, or all white women. This book shows us that it is not that simple, or easy, or fair, to do so.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jean on November 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was chosen by my book club by a member who grew up in Romania. I found it very thought-provoking...some felt it was depressing, as the title tends to make you think it would be a bit more light-hearted. Unfortunately, life in a communist country seems to have little light-heartedness to write about. It was so interesting that when the author came to America to speak at universities, the professors expected her to be pro-communist. When they found that she told the unvarnished truth about life in communist Romania, they were no longer interested in hearing her story. As Marxist wannabes, they chose to remain in denial. I realized that my Romanian friend chose this book to give westerners a glimpse at the kind of life communism offers. It's chilling. This book should be read by every person who thinks socialism/communism offers any solutions to the so-called "inequities" of a capitalistic system. From those who are in a position to know--it clearly does not.
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