Dery, Dominika 1975-
DERY, Dominika 1975-
PERSONAL: Born March 7, 1975, in Prague, Czech Republic; daughter of Jorda (an economist) and Jana (an economist) Dery. Education: State Conservatory of Prague, Czech Republic; École Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq, Paris, France. Hobbies and other interests: History, theater, singing.
CAREER: Author and dancer. National Ballet and National Theater, Prague, Czech Republic, dancer.
Prebolení: první sbirka basní z obdobi mezi lety 1991–1997 (poetry), Knihovna Jana Drdy (Pribram, Czech Republic), 1999.
The Twelve Little Cakes (memoir), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of several poetry collections and a play.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A sequel to The Twelve Little Cakes.
SIDELIGHTS: Dominika Dery is the daughter of Czech dissidents, who, after the failure of the anti-Soviet movement known as Prague Spring in 1968, were banished from their professional positions in Prague to scratch out a living however they were able in the city's suburbs. Dery was born into this milieu in 1975, and grew up in the waning years of Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. As a nineteen year old she fled the country, landing in Brooklyn, New York, where she waitressed for seven years, learned English, and worked on poetry and drama in her off hours. Returning to the Czech Republic with several volumes of poetry and a play as work experience, she set to work recounting her life growing up in the last years of the cold war. After two years of writing, the result was The Twelve Little Cakes, a memoir in a dozen chapters, each focusing on a pastry she enjoyed as a child and on the simple aspects of life that allowed Dery and her family to cope.
By the time of Dery's birth, the family had been ripped apart as a result of the dissident activities of the parents, for the maternal grandparents were loyal communists who disowned their actions. Her parents, intellectuals, were forced to pick up whatever work they could: mother wrote anonymous articles for the Economics Ministry, while her father worked manually at various occupations, including taxi driver. In her book, Dery writes of learning to survive in this system, using the black market and avoiding the informers that were everywhere, even in the Prague suburb where they lived.
Library Journal reviewer Tania Barnes noted, however, that "this is no cynical memoir—it is a touching but clear-eyed testament to a family's will to survive." The family found good times with, among other things, their television-star St. Bernhard, which helped out economically. In addition to her close family, Dery also found solace in three older women who befriended her and in her passion for ballet. In spite of deprivations, she was still able to attend ballet school and dance as a youth for the National Ballet, privileges usually reserved for good party members only. Barnes further characterized Dery's books as a "clear eyed memoir of growing up behind the Iron Curtain in late 1970s Czechoslovakia [that] is no fairy-tale fluff: think hopeful Hans Christian Andersen rather than anything Walt Disney." A contributor for Publishers Weekly was less enthusiastic about the memoir, calling it a "sometimes charming period piece" that is "written in an old-fashioned style mimicking the fairy tales that Dery loved as a child." A critic for Kirkus Reviews was more impressed, describing The Twelve Little Cakes as "disarmingly sweet and savvy." Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg had similar praise, calling the book a "spirited memoir," while Hannah Gómez, writing for Bookreporter online concluded that Dery's memoir is "a touching, sweet story, and it will remind you of your childhood days, when you were as loved as you wanted to be, and anything was possible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dery, Dominika, The Twelve Little Cakes, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Booklist, September 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of The Twelve Little Cakes, p. 194.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of The Twelve Little Cakes, p. 721.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Tania Barnes, review of The Twelve Little Cakes, pp. 42, 162.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 2004, review of The Twelve Little Cakes, p. 45.
AllReaders, http://www.allreaders.com/ (April 12, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of The Twelve Little Cakes.
Barnes and Noble Web site, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ (April 12, 2005), "Dominika Dery."
Bookreporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 12, 2005), Harriet Gómez, review of The Twelve Little Cakes.