When I was working at The Flying Dragon Bookshop I used to joke that if someone locked me in a room and told me that to win my release, I would have to sell The Twelve Little Cakes to the next 10 people who walked through the door, I would consider it a fair bargain. Boy did I sell a lot of this book, and for good reason. It’s one of few books that every so often, floats up to the surface of my memory, and makes me want to put down whatever I’ve got on the go, and reread it, cover to cover.
Dominika Dery’s memoir is as charming as they come. It traces her entire childhood, beginning in the years just after the Prague Spring, through the 1980s. Dery writes as if she were a child again, experiencing all of the things that she lived as she grew up. And it’s her voice that draws you in. You feel that you are being led through a strangely beautiful fairy tale by a wise and wonderfully impish little girl. Her parents were political dissidents, and needless to say, this set them at constant odds with their Communist neighbors. It’s this permanent state of discord that creates some of the most comic and poignant moments in the memoir. This is a rich tale, and surprisingly, an uplifting one. It reveals the incredible strength of family, and certainly made me think about what we need in order to be happy. This book is like the quirkiest and loveliest of foreign films, making you feel that you have lived for a short while in the shadows of a former time and place.
I know you’ve probably got lots of books to read just now, but think of The Twelve Little Cakes as a New Year’s treat to yourself. I am jealous of everyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of reading it yet.
Dominika Dery now lives in Australia, and I remember reading somewhere that she has been working on a sequel to this book. You can find an interview of her here.