Reviews for Wall : Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain


Booklist Reviews 2007 September #1
*Starred Review* In an autobiographical picture book that will remind many readers of Marjane Satrapi's memoir Persepolis (2003), Sís' latest, a powerful combination of graphic novel and picture book, is an account of his growing up in Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule. Written in several stands, the somewhat fragmented narrative never dilutes the impact of the boldly composed panels depicting scenes from Sís' infancy through young adulthood. Throughout, terrific design dramatizes the conflict between conformity and creative freedom, often through sparing use of color; in many cases, the dominant palette of black, white, and Communist red threatens to swallow up young Peter's freely doodled, riotously colored artwork. The panels heighten the emotional impact, as when Sís fleeing the secret police, emerges from one spread's claustrophobic, gridlike sequence into a borderless, double-page escape fantasy. Even as they side with Peter against fearsome forces beyond his control, younger readers may lose interest as the story moves past his childhood, and most will lack crucial historical context. But this will certainly grab teens--who will grasp both the history and the passionate, youthful rebellions against authority--as well as adults, many of whom will respond to the Cold War setting. Though the term picture book for older readers has been bandied about quite a bit, this memorable title is a true example. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2007 #5
The personal meets the political in this absorbing autobiographical picture book from Czech emigre Sis. Born in 1949, just as Czechoslovakia fell under communist rule and Soviet domination, Sis evokes the childhood of a born artist ("as long as he could remember, he had loved to draw") in a country where restrictions on what an artist could do grew along with him, where a child's love for drawing shapes and people was channeled, at school, into drawing tanks and hammer-and-sickles. While the brief main text of each page describes Sis's own experiences ("Slowly he started to question. He painted what he wanted to -- in secret"), small captions illuminate the thumbnail pictures of conditions in the country. Strategically accented with red stars and flags, these black ink drawings, sometimes four or six to a page, are almost entirely composed of short, stuttering horizontal pen strokes. The technique is all the more effective for the contrast it allows to Sis's -- and Czechoslovakia's -- expansive forays into freedom, like the full-color double-page spread depicting the Prague Spring of 1968, which blossoms with images of John Lennon, a Yellow Submarine, and a star-dappled winged horse at the end of a rainbow. The deployment of media choices and color throughout the book is both expert and telling: bold, stark black marker for an invading Soviet tank, dreamy blue crayon for the night the Beach Boys played Prague. It's a surprisingly comprehensive portrait of an era, an artist, and the persistence of the latter in the face of the former. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2007 July #2
S's has loved to draw for as long as he can remember, and this work tells the parallel stories of his early years drawing and the rise and fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. At home, he could draw what he wanted, but at school he drew what he was told, his only freedom being to dream and hope. A concise introduction fleshes out the history of the time, leaving the rest of the volume for a potent mix of narration, fanciful illustrations, maps and double-page spreads for journal entries. Made palpable is the frustration of an artist in a constrictive society, especially when "Bits and pieces of news from the West begin to slip through the Iron Curtain"--news of the Beatles, Elvis, Allen Ginsberg and the Harlem Globetrotters, depicted in full color to contrast with the grey darkness of the Eastern Bloc. As in all of S's's works, much is going on here, and readers will want to read it through, and then pore over the illustrations. A masterpiece for readers young and old. (afterword) (Nonfiction. 8+) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 July #1

Born out of a question posed to Ss (Play, Mozart, Play! ) by his children ("Are you a settler, Dad?"), the author pairs his remarkable artistry with journal entries, historical context and period photography to create a powerful account of his childhood in Cold War-era Prague. Dense, finely crosshatched black-and-white drawings of parades and red-flagged houses bear stark captions: "Public displays of loyalty--compulsory . Children are encouraged to report on their families and fellow students. Parents learn to keep their opinions to themselves." Text along the bottom margin reveals young Ss's own experience: "He didn't question what he was being told. Then he found out there were things he wasn't told." The secret police, with tidy suits and pig faces, intrude into every drawing, watching and listening. As Ss grows to manhood, Eastern Europe discovers the Beatles, and the "Prague Spring of 1968" promises liberation and freedom. Instead, Soviet tanks roll in, returning the city to its previous restrictive climate. Ss rebels when possible, and in the book's final spreads, depicts himself in a bicycle, born aloft by wings made from his artwork, flying toward America and freedom, as the Berlin Wall crumbles below. Although some of Ss's other books have their source in his family's history, this one gives the adage "write what you know" biting significance. Younger readers have not yet had a graphic memoir with the power of Maus or Persepolis to call their own, but they do now. Ages 8-up. (Aug.)

[Page 55]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2007 August

Gr 4 Up-- Personal, political, passionate--these are among the qualities that readers have come to appreciate about Ss's autobiographical books such as The Three Golden Keys (Doubleday, 1994) and Tibet through the Red Box (Farrar, 1998). This layered foray into family and Czech history begins with succinct sentences at the bottom of each page. Captions accompanying the art--arranged in panels of varying size--fill in more details. The pacing and design of the compositions create their own rhythm, contributing much to the resulting polyphony. Ss immediately engages even his youngest audience with a naked, cherubic self-portrait, colored pencil in hand. The ensuing scenes of home and community life in Prague, rendered predominantly in black and white, are punctuated with Communist red and tiny fragments of color as the young artist experiments in the face of rigid conformity. The third-person narration achieves an understatement that helps to mitigate the more disturbing descriptions found in his double-spread journal entries. Bordered by Ss's youthful art, photographs, and propaganda posters, these selections depict his reality behind the Iron Curtain from 1954 to 1977. The recurring themes of music and art as important vehicles of self-expression, and the relationship between a government's inclination to embrace or suppress that creativity and the state's vitality, will resonate with teens. This celebration of the arts climaxes in a full-color spread la Peter Max. Complex, multifaceted, rich in detail, this book shares the artist's specific heritage while connecting to universal longings. His concluding visions of freedom are both poignant and exhilarating.--Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

[Page 139]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2007 December
This illustrated autobiography by a Czech artist who grew up on the communist side of the Iron Curtain is an eye opening exploration of life during the Cold War era in Eastern Europe. As a child Sis discovers that most activities fall into one of three categories: compulsory, discouraged, or prohibited. He soon learns that there are things he cannot write about, discuss, or draw. Everyone whispers about how things are in the Western world, but because radios and television signals are jammed and phones are bugged, these are only rumors. Life consists of food lines, Russian propaganda, and informants. Then in the 1960s, young people begin hearing of rock music and a group called The Beatles. Youth try to grow their hair longer and secretly listen to rock music in basements. Decadent art starts appearing on fences and walls. People who have traveled and experienced a taste of Western culture will never be satisfied with the stifling authoritarian lifestyle of communism. When the Berlin Wall finally falls, Sis moves to America and becomes a successful animator and artist. This book is packed with the author's primitive art that simply and effectively illustrates the history of Czechoslovakia's struggle with totalitarianism and evokes the dreams of its repressed people. Art and rebellious music helped plant the seeds of revolution. This slight book is a simple, entertaining way to learn about the post World War II era and what life on the "other side" was like.-Kevin Beac Illus. Chronology. 4Q 2P M J Copyright 2007 Voya Reviews.

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