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Juliet Wittman… this ramble through a childhood that remained full of pleasure and affection despite the efforts of the communist regime is well worth taking.
— The Washington Post
2. In chapter 4, Jana tells Dominika the story of the Czech hero Jan Hus, a figure invoked in times of struggle. What traits turned Jan Hus into such a potent symbol for the Czech people? Do his courage and sacrifice find resonance in anyone in Dominika's story?
3. Dominika's first experience with loss occurs when her neighbors, whom she refers to as her three grandmothers, "go away." Yet only with the death of Barry, the family's St. Bernard, does Dominika begin to grasp the lasting implications of death and how lives are changed by it. Compare your own early memories of loss with Dominika's. Describe how these early losses influenced your outlook and hers. Compare Dominika's loss of her three "grandmothers" with the absence of her maternal grandparents.
4. Jana's parents, members of the Communist Party elite, disown their daughter when she marries Jarda, a member of the working class. Discuss other examples of hypocrisy found among Communist officials in The Twelve Little Cakes. Do you think Dominika was right to force a confrontation between her mother and her grandparents? Might there have been a reconciliation under other circumstances, with less impulsiveness and more careful consideration, or were Jana and her parents too far apart ideologically? Is forgiveness truly a possibility when one is living under a tyrannical regime?
5. While auditioning for the preparatory school of the National Theatre Ballet Company, Dominika reflects, "Even though we were only six or seven years old, everyone in the group knew that the school accepted only one student in ten, and each of us desperately wanted to be chosen." Discuss the political culture that gave rise to this desperation and the pressure for young children to compete and achieve. Is Dominka's motivation that of her peers? What accounts for her particular brand of determination?
6. A poster bearing the slogan "Religion Is the Opiate of the Masses!" hangs in Dominika's classroom, and the headmistress, Comrade Humlova, preaches that religion is superstition. Despite this, and despite the fact that her parents are not religious, Dominika attends church and even manages to be baptized and receive communion. Why is Dominika drawn to Catholicism and its rituals? Discuss why a socialist regime would view religion as dangerous, and cite examples from recent history of religious practice that has survived despite oppression.
7. After falling ill, Dominika is diagnosed with dysentery, but when the Furmans seek medical help, they are told that dysentery does not exist under the socialist health care system. Still, there is an entire ward full of children similarly afflicted in the Infection Pavilion of the Prague hospital where Dominika is treated. Discuss the Orwellian use of "official language" and socialist euphemisms to conceal actual conditions throughout the book.
8. When Jana has an emotional breakdown, her husband exhorts her to be an optimist. She responds, "An optimist? You know what an optimist is? An optimist is a pessimist without information." Do you agree with this view? Was there a place for optimism in the Czechoslovakia of the late 1970s and early 1980s? Were there signs of hope on the horizon? Discuss the differing views of the family's prospects, as seen through Jana's eyes and her husband's.
9. Discuss the differences between the Polish children Dominika meets on vacation and the children in her Prague neighborhood and school. Discuss the differences between the Furman's neighbors and the Polish couple who take them in when the Furman's car breaks down. What accounts for the differences between the two communist countries?
10. The Twelve Little Cakes ends with Dominika and her parents driving home from their mishap-filled vacation in Poland (actually, they must push their broken-down car over the border). Dominika observes, "This was the country of little cakes and sausages," which is similar to the statement she makes at the beginning of the book: "When I think of my childhood, I think of little cakes and sausages, because they were symbolic of the way we lived under communism." Why does the author choose little cakes and sausages as a symbol of life in a communist society?
Posted October 23, 2006
I found this book enchanting and read it in roughly three days. Although the pace is slow for the first couple of chapters, it quickens and never lags after that. I was intrigued by the (dissident) Dery family's ability to live a life that is admirable in the face of constant opposition and betrayal. Many of the events would have left most of us in despair, yet the Derys continually bounce back and even excell in their achievements. I consider myself astute politically, yet found this day-to-day picture of Communism eye-opening. Most amazing to me was to relate the major political events in Czechoslovakia to what I was doing at that moment here in the U.S. An important read in a light format.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2006
I was also born in Czechoslovakia,in 1970.This outstanding book bring back so many memories! I love your book. I was 18 years old vhen we came to USA your book is very truthfull. Thank you so much for sharring your life with us. The best of luck to you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 20, 2005
Posted January 4, 2005
It has been a long time since I have read such a sweet, lyrical--yet feet-on-the-floor--memoir. Ms. Dery makes the words, and the memories they evoke, dance across the page. In the process, she exposes Communism for the farce that it was (and is). 'Cakes' is a mouth-watering treat. Bravo!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2004
I bought this book because I've been to Prague and thought that her story might be insightful and an interesting read. Her book exceeded my expectations ten-fold. Her words flowed across the pages with wonderful tales from her childhood. The lessons of love and togetherness within her immediate family are a treasure. She's a young writer. So hopefully in another few years she'll consider sharing more stories where this book left off.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Because Jana and Jorda were an intricate part of the Prague Spring of 1968, they lost everything when the hardliners brought in the Russians to crush the reformists. As they struggle to earn a living both agree no more children. However, in 1974, Jana dreams of a new daughter and one year later Dominika is born.............................. For the next eighteen years, Dominika grew up in a relatively happy home although poverty was the norm in the Prague suburb of Cernosice. There Jana was the prime bread winner writing books for the State Economic Institute that her bosses claimed as theirs while earning a small pittance. Though an educated intellect, Jorda did odd physical jobs when he could get employment. In fact the most employed member of the household was TV star, Barry the St. Bernard. Because Dominika has an upbeat open personality and indirectly her parents encourage this, she and her family were in trouble in a village with moles and traitors willing to turn in a loved one to the state without remorse............................. This engaging memoir provides a deep look into Czechoslovakia just after the Russian tanks occupied the country. Readers will see the impact on those who followed Dubcek (one of the tragic figures of the previous century) as they tried to remove the corruption out of Communism and grant freedoms to the people before folding to the Soviet military might. THE TWELVE LITTLE CAKES is an interesting period piece that showcases the Cold War at one of its coldest moments................................... Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 18, 2011
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Posted November 12, 2009
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Posted October 20, 2010
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