Iva Procházková - A Story for Europe

A Story for Europe – What Literature do Children and Young People in Europe need?

contribution by Iva Procházková (Tschechien/Deutschland)



I should like to recommend » The Wall« by Peter Sís to children, teenagers and adults in Europe. This is a book that provokes thought and empathy, because it tells – in images more than in words – a great part of our history.

And it is, indeed, our history, because like Peter Sís I grew up behind the Wall, or, as they said at the time, behind the Iron Curtain, which was closely knit and insurmountable, and yet we could hear and see a lot of what happened on the other side. These were not clearly shaped forms, detailed information and unimpeded sound, but rather impressions and echoes, little bits and pieces, incomplete and deformed building blocks of the lives »over there« we perceived.

»We did not know anything about the West, but we had lots of ideas about it in mind«, says Peter Sís, »And they were more beautiful than reality.«

He remembers seemingly insignificant, yet important details of our everyday life at the time, e.g. the ways the youth dressed. We would not wear the clothes we could buy at ordinary stores. We had to modify them – lower the neckline, change the colour, shorten the skirt, widen the trouser legs. In order to not have the others laugh at her, a girl had to be creative and patient, and manufacture – with the help of her grandma – her own dresses and coats, knit sweaters, have bras sent from the West. The boys mounted higher heels to their shows and produced sunglasses and jewellery for men. At home they turned their acoustic guitars into electric ones, and played the tunes by the Beatles and the Stones. They sang the songs with lyrics they had misunderstood in the backyards or garages. And they often were reported to the police and interrogated by the Stasi because they »spread Capitalist propaganda«.

Life in a totalitarian regime was not colourful. Therefore the illustrations in the book are mostly grey and red or black and white. They convey longing and fear, two of the most popular feelings of the time. A young person behind the Wall dreams a lot, because when when wide awake, s/he sees an ugly, narrow and dangerous world. However, our dreams were dangerous, too. Because they made us hate our real lives even more, and we became increasingly alienated. Our eternal dream was called freedom. However, what did freedom look like? For some it was Coca-Cola, blue jeans and mind-blowing rock concerts. For others it meant travelling, or speaking freely, reading what you wanted to read, study according to your choice, and thinking and believing at your own discretion.

»The Wall« is an entertaining, resourceful and funny book about a serious, sad and sometimes even tragic matter. A book to show young Europeans today what the world looked like before they were born, and what it is still like behind the walls in our world today.


Juli 2012


Translation: Lilian-Astrid Geese

Edited by: Lindsay Jane Munro