Věra Nosková - We take what there is
Passages from the Novel
My mother had emptied the trough and started to hang up the washing when the man arrived. He exchanged a few words with the washer-woman and she asked me in a matter-of-fact tone: „Will you go to the swings with your father?“
The word „father“ was new to me. I didn’t know that tall blackhaired man with a moustache. I nodded reluctantly. I was surprised that mother didn’t talk small as usual. She spoke in a matter-of-fact way, entrusting me without a wink to the care of the black-haired man.
He treated me as if I were someone beloved and precious. He smiled when I was jumping. He was sorry for me when I fell down. I wasn’t used to such a fuss. He talked to me, asked me questions, without smiling compulsively or being intrusive. He even managed not to issue any order, warning or admonition. He stressed several times that he was my father. Cheered up by such an excentric outing, I accepted those statements as if he were telling me that he was a shop assistant or a taylor. I understood that „father“ was most likely some kind of opposite to „mother“; but shouldn’t it be someone who is present at home?
A few years later, I recalled the moving genetic proximity which marked our incipient relationship. We walked together, both blackhaired, slim, with ivory white skin and green eyes, secretive but passionate creatures, with quiet manners and speech... My grown-ups were of quite another sort. They would say whatever occurred to them. They would mortify each other by harsh criticism, false accusations, suspicions... They kept the existence of my father hidden from me.
...From time to time my grandmother allowed me to hang a blanket over the kitchen table. I slipped underneath and dreamed in that black-pudding-like darkness about landscapes that I knew from the pictures hung up in the lavatory, or I struggled with reading in the light of a torch. Between my fourth and fifth year, I managed to extract knowledge about letters from my folks. During our errands in the town I would ask inconspicuously about their pronunciation, until I put the whole alphabet together. My spelling books were the shopsigns, posters and noticeboards with slogans: „Building our country we strengthen peace!“, „Not a grain to be lost“, „Onwards, the Stalin way“. Similar appeals, executed most often in crimson, were plentiful all around.
* * *
The suspicion that God exists gained strength in me. He should exist simply because I needed Him. That’s why people have invented Him! Or is this why He let them know about Him? Both ways are possible. And if both are possible, I can choose. We take not only what there is, but, above all, what we need at the moment. I learnt to drop in the church every day at least for a while. Not to attend the mass, but rather when the church was empty, or when there were only a few humble worshippers, who didn’t disturb me. I learnt to cross myself – which was a tranquilizing ritual, I started to address Him and take Him into confidence, equally open and self-scrutinizing as in my secretly written notes intended for my distant father. I could even address both in the same way – father. Our Father who art in heaven – and also you, in Slovakia – I inserted into the prayer. I knew that the heavenly one would forgive me for my cheekiness. I deserved to be loved by both for sure only both of them were rather far away. But I believed that they thought of me, and here I was meeting them.
My hallucinations ceased right after my first visit to the church under the pouring sound of the organ. They were replaced by a soothing feeling, an image of a vast godly palm hovering over me, over our little house. I sensed the palm, experiencing it with gratitude, although I couldn’t see it, no hallucination this time. Fortunately, God is invisible, just as happiness, joy and thoughts. Peace and security reigned under God’s vast hand.
(The plot of the first excerpt, which are slightly abbreviated, takes place in 1952, the second five years later, when the girl Pauline was already ten years old.)
We take what there is (Praha, Abonent ND 2005, ISBN 80- 7258-204-6) the partially autobiographic novel describes the situation of the young post-war generation through the life story of the girl Pauline who grows up in the dismal atmosphere of a small Czech town. The hostile times and the family life of the heroine are described through authentic situations. Living in a cramped household with her mother, grandparents, two brothers and a good-natured, but henpecked stepfather, her soul looks up to her idealized biological father who lives, after being divorced, in his native village in Slovakia. Her plump mother, formerly a Viennese beauty nicknamed „the Black Rose“, disappointed by her fate, oppresses little Pauline by her coarseness, hysteria and anger. Pauline’s similarity with her biological father irritates her. The girl finds refuge with strange people, once at the home of an excentric old woman called „The American“.
The readers as well as numerous reviewers praise the thrilling story, full of lively action, the author’s rich language, the pertinent description of characters and places, and the heroine’s inner strength and independence of views. The book was nominated for the major literary prize of the Czech Republic (Magnesia Litera). It has been published already in two editions, a third one is just underway. The digital recording of a radio reading will be published in a CD version.
Věra Nosková (*1947) grew up in the ancient South Bohemian district town of Strakonice, but she has been living in Prague since 1972. After her grammar-school studies she worked, successively, as a shopwindow dresser, factory hand, archivist, drawer, cultural worker, waitress and kindergarten teacher. In the nineties, the fall of communism enabled her to start a new carreer as a journalist and writer. The list of her published works includes a book of poetry and eight novels and collections of short stories. She is a founding member of the Czech Sceptics’ club and a member of the P.E.N. club. With her husband, a natural scientist, she has two grown-up sons. Her latest book, Let us defend men, deals with postmodern trends in society that pose a threat to a conventional family model.
For more information see www.noskova.eu.
How do you evaluate these extracts of a Czech novel or the novel itself if you’ve had an opportunity to read it in Czech? Please send your comments either by e-mail to: email@example.com, or by post to the address on the last page (Český dialog, Sokolovská 179, 190 00 Praha 9, Czech Republic, EU). Three selected contributors will be rewarded by a book or CD. You can express your opinion either by a few sentences or just giving a grade, from one to three: ONE: an excellent subject, gripping story, would like to read the novel in English. TWO: a good subject & contents, an English version might interest only those who come from Central Europe. THREE: it didn’t captivate me, the samples suffice. — It should be noted that the English translation is only a working version and may not do full justice to the literary qualities of the book.Selected excerpts
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