‘Two Underdogs and a Cat’ by Slavenka Drakulic ****

‘Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic here presents an unorthodox, imaginative take on the transition from Communism to capitalism in the former Soviet Union. Three characters – a dog, an underdog, and a cat – offer the reader narratives that reflect on life under Communism and what has followed in its wake. The first, “An Interview with the Oldest Dog in Bucharest,” is about a dog named Charlie, whose mother, Mimi, together with thousands of other pets, was thrown out into the street during the Ceausescu regime. In this interview, Charlie describes how not only people but animals, too, became victims during the destruction of downtown neighborhoods in Bucharest in order to build a pyramid-like ‘Palace of the People’. In “A Guided Tour of the Museum of Communism,” a sixty-year-old souvenir vendor-cum-cleaning woman in Prague reflects upon the meaning of such a museum and concludes wryly that she herself is possibly the museum’s best exhibit. Finally, “A Cat-keeper in Warsaw” describes an encounter with a person “of feline origin” who claims to be in possession of the cat-keeper called ‘General’ who declared martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981. The three stories are unified by powerful, but troubling questions: Are democracy and capitalism really a change for the better? Is the idea of social justice lost forever? Is there such a thing as collective responsibility? And how do we remember and understand our past?’

9781906497286I have wanted to read Slavenka Drakulic’s work for ages, and borrowed Two Underdogs and a Cat: Three Reflections on Communism, the only book of hers which my library had in stock. The volume is comprised of three short stories entitled ‘A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism’, ‘An Interview with the Oldest Dog in Bucharest’, and ‘The Cat-Keeper in Warsaw’, told from the perspective of a mouse, a dog, and a cat respectively.

Drakulic’s work is clever, deep, and well informed, with a touch of whimsy. Each story is engaging, and the way in which they are told and the content which they express mould to become something quite profound. In the first story, for instance, Drakulic writes the following: ‘Maybe the absence of individual stories is the best illustration of the fact that individualism was the biggest sin one could commit.’

Informative, powerful, and rather different to many of the reflections on Communist rule which I have read to date, Two Underdogs and a Cat is one of the most memorable books I have come across in quite a while. Drakulic effectively demonstrates how far-reaching Communism was, and the effects which still remain today for ordinary people. As she writes in ‘An Interview with the Oldest Dog in Bucharest’, in a clear play on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘In the transition from Communism to capitalism, all people are unequal but some are more unequal than others’.

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