Vanek and Mucke are Czech oral historians who have applied their craft to reveal how 300 Czechs from all walks of life—factory workers, teachers, electricians, doctors, soldiers—remember the communist era of their youth: their schools, workplaces, and friendships, as well as the political norms and hazards that shaped and abraded their lives. Their memories of what preceded 1989—“the crack,” as many people refer to the collapse of socialism—are mixed and human, full of simple pleasures: evenings at the pub, good and bad teachers, holidays, and the rhythms of the workday. They appreciate the new freedoms they now have—if they can afford them. But they frown on the anomie, materialism, self-absorption, and inequities of the postcommunist era and resent those who have found ways to game the new system. The striking thing is that notwithstanding the fundamental differences between the political system in which they spent most of their lives and that of the United States, their outlook on the past and the present appears not all that different from that of Americans of the same generation.
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