Thursday, April 7, 2011

"A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism"

To be interesting and relevant, the study of history should include the stories of the people who actually lived it. Dates and battles are all very well, but by personalizing the experiences, we can better relate to the people who suffered or benefited from the larger picture.A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism: Fables from a Mouse, a Parrot, a Bear, a Cat, a Mole, a Pig, a Dog, and a Raven, by Slavenka Drakulic, tells stories of life under the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe from the point of view of animals.
By choosing to use the voices of animals, Ms. Drakulic makes the stories more approachable. These are not people whining or justifying their actions (or inactions); instead, we hear animals explain why people did what they did.

Not all the tales explain how the common people lived. In fact, we hear from a parrot which enjoyed the luxurious lifestyle of living with "the Marshal." We learn a mole's point of view about the "fabled" Berlin Wall. The "oldest dog in Bucharest" tells us of life after the fall of Communism.

Ms. Drakulic understands how quickly people forget the horrors of the past. Generations who have never lived under the shadow of totalitarian regimes find the stories of the elders strange and fantastical. Why didn't people rise up? Why did people turn in each other? Why didn't more escape? Why did people tolerate the intolerable?

Despite the use of animals as narrators, this book is not for younger readers. Some of the stories are dark and refer to great cruelties.

A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism would serve as an insightful adjunct to Cold War, European, ideological, or similar studies. Families could discuss how they would have hoped to have acted in each story, as well as how they more likely would have behaved. Students could be encouraged to write their own fables about atrocities they see in our world. For example, why do neighborhoods tolerate gang violence? What would it be like to talk with a high-ranking official about a major indescretion that must remain hidden? How do the homeless maintain a sense of humanity and community? What does poverty look like from the perch of extreme wealth?

Homeschoolers understand that deeper understanding rarely lies in the pages of a textbook. Books, such as A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism are what add depth and color to our learning experience.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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