He was born in the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century at the start of the Cold War. In his graphic memoir, Peter Sis tells what life was like for a boy who loved to draw and make music, who joined the Young Pioneers, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, passed Louis Armstrong in a snowstorm, longed for blue jeans and Beatles-style boots, let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, listened to jammed radio, and traveled with the Beach Boys when they toured Czechoslavakia. Peter Sis’s story of growing up under a totalitarian regime proves that creativity can be discouraged but not easily killed, and that the desire to be free came naturally to a generation of young people behind the Iron Curtain.
Author Peter Sis draws us into life, both literally and figuratively, in Czechoslavakia during the Cold War in this compelling graphic novel of his childhood and adolescence. So many public displays of loyalty were compulsory and children were encouraged to spy on their families and classmates for actions and opinions that were contrary to Communist party beliefs.
I didn’t realize the extent to which their lives and creativity were stifled. Czech teens had to resort to making their own electric guitars and hiding them in basements and attics. Long hair was considered a sign of Western decadence and if caught the police had orders to cut it.
In 1968 when censorship was slowly starting to lift, Western influence began to filter in. They heard about a “wild woman named Elvis Presley” only to find out the she was a he! Western music became more readily available and blue jeans were allowed (although no one could afford them) and the Harlem Globetrotters visited Prague. It was a time of freedom and euphoria albeit short lived.
The author’s illustrations are mostly pen and ink, but Communist red stands out in almost every drawing. In just a few short lines on each page this book gave me a deeper understanding about life behind the Iron Curtain before perestroika and glasnost were introduced to the Soviet Union.
Housed in the juvenile section of our library, though easy enough to read, I feel this book is better suited to young adults.