This is a great book for people, like me, who imagine Eastern Europe to be full of cynically wise, battle-scarred (politically) individuals who have acquired through suffering a deeper insight into the true nature of the human condition. That is an unreserved compliment to the author, who captures beautifully the diversity of the political experience under the Soviet system but also the bleakness that homogenised it.

The format of the book is a series of fables, told by animals, each about a different Eastern European, formerly Communist country. The language is subtle and humorous and it even crossed my mind to suggest my children read it. But I thought better of it. A fair amount of prior knowledge is needed to enjoy this book. The chapter on Jaruzelski does not even mention his name, for example.

But this is a thoroughly enjoyable read on a number of levels. It reminds you, not least, of some of the lunacies of the Communist era, like the Ceausescus’ nutty approach to dogs. But it also digs deep into the banalities and oppressiveness of the system and reminds us that its legacy is very much with us today.

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