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July 2021

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Bloc Life by Peter Molloy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars 

Best for:
Those who like to read very short insights into a lot of different lives.

In a nutshell:
Journalist Molloy gathers together stories of people who lived in former East Germany, former Czechoslovakia, and Romania under Communist rule.

Worth quoting:
“I was a communist, and still am today, and I’m of the opinion that communism is a good thing when it’s done right.”

“I was opposed to East Germany because it was a dictatorship.”

“A couple who remained childless beyond the age of 25 saw their tax bills increase and had their sex life scrutinized by government inspectors.”

Why I chose it:
I don’t actually know much about the lives of people who lived in countries under previous attempts at communist government.

Review:
So, capitalism is a giant failure. I think that’s pretty apparently given *gestures to everything*. The past few years in the US, socialism has become appealing to some people. And there are aspects of socialism in most capitalistic democracies, like fire departments or schools. And then there’s communism. All I knew about communism before the past couple of years was what I gleaned from pop culture and the very old textbooks that sort of taught me history. Basically, McCarthy hearings, blacklisting, and adding ‘Under God’ to the US pledge of allegiance.

I visited Berlin about a decade after reunification, took the tours, saw the remaining bits of the wall, Checkpoint Charlie. And museums do a great job with some aspects of history, but I find hearing directly from people to be a great way to really learn about how life was. It’s one thing to read about, say travel restrictions; it’s another to hear someone explain what they had to go through to visit someone in West Berlin.

In this book, Molloy gathers stories from people who lived under European communist regimes. He looks at workers, youth, leisure, religion, policing, health, sex, dissent and other topics, focusing on one person’s story for a few pages at a time. Many are heartbreaking, some are inspiring. One thing that became quickly apparent was that these countries were run by dictators who claimed to be communists. In fact, some of the policies in place sounded like ones that Republicans in the US would support if they didn’t know who proposed them – like making abortions illegal.

These stories are important, and I’m so glad I read this book, but I’m only giving it three stars because I think it lacks both sufficient context and sufficient editing. I appreciate the groupings, but not much connects the people who share their stories. It could have used more than an intro chapter and then another couple of introductory paragraphs in each chapter. And I appreciate gathering voices from a variety of regimes, but think it would have been stronger to focus on what was happening within each of the three countries and then comparing across. I don’t know – this just felt a bit like a hodge podge.

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