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Communism: Misguided political views or pure evil?
Communism: Misguided political views or pure evil?
There is no lack of books about communist countries and specifically the time period of its rise to power between 1930s and 1997, yet there are still open questions about the essence of its political potential. Is a classless system better than open capitalism? This book does not answer that question, instead it focuses on life inside a communist country and some of the impacts that might not be talked about during ideological conversations.
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Perhaps all we need is just one person's story
Most history books focus on the social-economic benefits to a political system or perhaps the international stature and interactions in a given time period. Rarely do they dive deep enough to show the trials or benefits on the individual basis. Good-bye Dracula does just that, following the life of Traian Nicola growing up and living in Transylvania as its monarchy is toppled and replaced by communism.
Life for Traian appears to be like any other childhood from around the world with school, playing with friends, and spending time with parents. Yet even early on small differences appear that those of us living in free countries would quickly pick up on. For instance, he experienced parents losing homes or jobs, not for lack of qualifications or money, but rather belonging to the wrong political party. Families having to watch their words and shielding their feelings for fear their children might repeat what they say and get their parents arrested for disloyalty. Or even seeing parents of friends being arrested and placed in work camps for no known reason. Even to a young child this doesn't feel right or normal even when this is all you know.
Later in life Traian experiences more elitism even as the political party says that everyone is equal, apparently some are more equal than others. Yet what really brought home the class warfare in a 'classless system' was when Traian trained and was employed in the Foreign Service. He struggled to be able to travel internationally for work even though that was technically part of his job that he was trained and hired to do. First, he was banned from marrying a local girl he was engaged to as one of her family members had left the country and thus she was not to be considered trustworthy. He was told that if he married her he would never be allowed to travel and would be kicked out of his job and even his home city. Thus he was forced marry a more politically acceptable woman, but even then he was told without joining the Communist Party he would never be allowed to travel. Again in most free countries this concept of being told whom, to marry, when to have children and if you are allowed to travel at all is as foreign as many of the foods in Romania.
This book has a happy ending with Traian marrying a woman he falls in love with and having two children while he served internationally in Japan and Pakistan. He ultimately fled to the United States when he found out that due to political machinations most of his department would be banned from travel and lose their job within the next couple of years.
Overall review of this book
In any autobiography one might need to excuse a different level of storytelling as the author struggles to put an entire life into a logical and readable story when they are so close to the subject matter. Unlike other books you have read you might find this one a little disjointed with major topics brought up and just as quickly dismissed within the course of a few sentences. Some of these topics could and potentially should have been expanded to build a more complete and holistic view of life. Frequently he would start a topic and say he would come back to it later, and unfortunately not always actually return to it. When you have so many ideas in your head perhaps this is what happens.
Overall this book shares an extremely interesting story of what it was like behind the iron curtain. This is not a perspective commonly seen and thus worth a read especially as individuals with first hand knowledge of communism are aging out of our population. The challenges in the writing may throw some readers, but if you can look past them you will be rewarded with a new perspective on the political system.
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What we can take away from this story
Throughout the world over the past couple of the years with the economic catastrophe there have been many conversations about the pitfalls of unchecked capitalism. Many have said that perhaps an open capitalist system has failed a large percent of the population with a larger gap between the rich and the poor, perhaps a classless system like communism is more appropriate. While I do not think it is appropriate for me to weigh in on the pros and cons of one political system or another, I think this book raises the extremely valid point that ideology is very different than practical application. Ideologies are rarely easy to deploy in their idealist settings due to practical considerations or due to the conflict with human nature. We all must take a moment and think critically on what has caused problems in the past and what perhaps would be different in the future. We all must be intelligent consumers of news and opinions and make sure we don't simply try to find greener grass on the other side.
An interview with author Traian Nicola
Q)What inspired you to finally write about your experiences and publish them?
A)There were two reasons why I decided to write this book. The first was to help our children understand why we defected to the United States. For security reasons we told them very little about this subject over the years. The second reason was the increasing nostalgia for communism in Romania and other East European countries. In the "Introduction" I tried to explain what had led to this, but missed an important point: that most young people in Romania (as well as in many other countries) know almost nothing about communism and, even worse, that they are not interested in this subject at all.
One person, a young American lady, who requested a complimentary copy of my book, wrote in her review (three times!) that even though she thought the book was well written "communism was a subject she was not at all interested in." No doubt, she must have expected the book to be about "Dracula the Vampire." Unfortunately, many young people today are mostly interested in reading or seeing movies about aliens, murders, vampires, dinosaurs. This was indirectly confirmed by a "Producer Action Plan" based on my book prepared at my publisher's request by a group of Hollywood writers.
This creates a great danger in Romania and other former communist countries. In fact, very recently a group of neo-Bolshevik parties attempted a coup d'Ã©tat in Romania by organizing a referendum in order to have the current pro-U.S. and pro-E.U. president removed from office. Surprisingly, 46% of the Romanians, very likely a large percentage of them young, voted for these parties. Given their extreme aggressiveness and harsh words about the U.S. and E.U. it became clear to me that these parties had a strong backing from Russia which, as everyone knows by now, is trying to recreate its former "empire."
Q)Is there anything you wish you had put in the book that didn't make the cut?
A)Aside from the point mentioned above there was only one other issue that I failed to include in my book. Even though minor, it may have given extra strength to my argument that communism was an evil system. Before Easter my mother always dyed eggs. Later I watched her a few times carefully wrapping the eggshells before placing them outside with the other trash. Everyone was suspicious of the secret police and even of their neighbors. I later heard that some people would discard the eggshells in a public trash bin so that they could not be traced back to their homes.
Q)What was the hardest part about writing this story down?
A) I was very surprised how easy it was for me to write the book considering that for so many years I had used only "business language" as part of my job. For a couple of weeks I made notes of things I remembered about my past and then wrote the first draft of the manuscript in 15 nights working from 6 p.m. until 7 or 8 a.m. the following morning. Then I asked my publisher not to make any changes that would lose the "flavor" of my book. Publisher gladly complied and verified only the consistency of names and corrected such things as commas, semi-colons, etc. I am glad I did not use one of the major publishers; they would have definitely wanted to re-write portions of my book to make the language sound more "American."
Q)Do you think you will ever write another book and if so on what topic?
A) In my current book I have included only a short summary of my life in America for two reasons: any detailed information would have detracted the reader from its main subject - the evil nature of communism; also, I attempted to quickly "close the circle" that started in my childhood and ended with the fulfillment of my strong desire to see the world, locate and visit the farm near Helena, Montana where my great-grandfather had worked in the early 1900s, finally have a religious wedding, etc. I am not sure that I will ever write another book, but who knows? I have also stopped reading fiction many years ago. There is too much to learn from past history and there are too many scary things going on in the world at the moment. Islamic terrorism is, of course, one of them.