As Europe remembers the end of the Second World War, Writers & Company presents Memory and Myth: The Rebirth of Central Europe, a special series that explores the legacy of those events and the following decades of Communist rule. Over the course of six programs (aired in May and June 2005), Eleanor Wachtel meets with some of the most important writers in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, whose personal stories reflect the larger story of each country's experience - and the myths and memories that have shaped them. It's a journey of reflection and discovery.
The Central European countries of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic share common borders and a tragic history--including the devastation of World War II and the brutal Soviet occupation that followed. For forty years--from 1948 to 1989--they were isolated from each other, and from the West, by the Iron Curtain.
Despite censorship and risk of imprisonment, some of Europe's leading writers have emerged from these countries, their work initially published underground in an atmosphere of courageous creative energy. In Central Europe, the word has always had power--never more so than during the years of oppression.
"What other country than the Czech Republic, for instance, can claim a dissident writer, Vaclav Havel, as its first president?" says Writers & Company host Eleanor Wachtel. "Poland has four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and every other street in Budapest is named after a poet or playwright."
Since the dramatic collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989, these countries have reinvented themselves. Each draws on a unique language and history to find common goals in a rapidly changing world. While the transition to democracy is not without its problems, membership in NATO and, most recently, in the European Union, is a symbol of the transformation that's taken place in these countries, with the promise of a better future.
As Europe remembers the end of the Second World War, Writers & Company presents a special series that explores the legacy of those events and the following decades of Communist rule. Over the course of six programs, Eleanor Wachtel meets with some of the most important writers in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, whose personal stories reflect the larger story of each country's experience--and the myths and memories that have shaped them. It's a journey of reflection and discovery.
7 April 2005: Adam Zagajewski (interview broadcast in advance of the series)
Adam Zagajewski: Born 1945 in Lvov, Adam Zagajewski is one of Poland's finest poets and essayists, a man who champions ecstasy and ardor over irony. Widely translated and internationally admired, his work is imbued with history and homeland. Zagajewski's memoirs Two Cities and Another Beauty describe his family's experience of displacement after the war. Later he found a new, spiritual home in Krakow, where he now lives.
Zagajewski's most recent books in English translation are Without End: New and Selected Poems and A Defense of Ardor and Other Essays, both published by Farrar Straus Giroux.
15 May 2005: George Konrad
George Konrad: Born in 1933 in a small town near the Romanian border, novelist and essayist George Konrad has been described as Hungary's "literary lion" -both for his daring work and for his passionate commitment to the life of his country. His extraordinary experience of surviving the Holocaust charged him with a sense of responsibility as witness, storyteller, conscience of his nation. He became an activist in the Democracy Movement and then president of International PEN. In his most recent and innovative fiction, Konrad returns to the trauma of the past in unexpectedly playful ways.
Konrad's recent titles in English translation include the novels A Feast in the Garden and Stonedial, and the essay collections The Invisible Voice: Meditations on Jewish Themes and Melancholy of Rebirth: Essays from Post-Communist Central Europe, 1989-1994, all published by Harcourt.
22 May 2005: Julia Hartwig and Ivan Klima
Julia Hartwig: Born 1921 in Lublin, Julia Hartwig is one of Poland's most highly respected poets, also an essayist and translator of French and English poetry. Her long life experience reflects her country's tortured history through the past century. During WWII she was a member of the underground Home Army and a student of the underground university in Warsaw, where she now lives.
Hartwig's poetry has been widely translated and anthologized, but none of her books is available in English.
Ivan Klima: Born 1931 in Prague, Klima is the foremost Czech novelist and essayist of his generation. Interned as a child at the Terezin concentration camp, he became one of his country's most famous dissident writers, his works for many years banned in his country, published abroad or in the underground press. His most recent titles in English include No Saints or Angels, Lovers for a Day, The Ultimate Intimacy and The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays.
Much of Klima's fiction is available in paperback from Grove Press. His book of essays The Spirit of Prague is published by Granta Books.
29 May 2005: Eda Kriseova
Eda Kriseova--Born 1940 in Prague, Eda Kriseova is a former dissident Czech journalist and fiction writer whose work was for many years banned. She served as speaker for Vaclav Havel during the Velvet Revolution, later worked as advisor in his office and became his official biographer. Love and madness are themes of her fiction, which draws on her experience working at a psychiatric hospital in the countryside after the Soviet invasion of 1968.
Some of Eda Kriseova's stories can be found in English in Description of a Struggle: The Picador Book of Contemporary East European Prose (1994), Allskin and Other Tales by Contemporary Czech Women (Women in Translation, Seattle, 1998), Partisan Review (1996). Vaclav Havel: The Authorized Biography was published by St. Martin's (1993).
5 June 2005: Ryszard Kapuscinski and Adam Nadasdy
Ryszard Kapuscinski: Born 1932 in. Pinsk, the preeminent Polish journalist and essayist was for many years the Polish Press Agency's only foreign correspondent, reporting on wars, coups and revolutions in America, Asia and Africa. He has created his own exciting style of reportage and reflection in books such as The Emperor, The Soccer War and Imperium.
Many of Ryszard Kapuscinski's books are available in Vintage editions. His latest book in English translation, Travels with Herodotus, will be published by Knopf in 2006.
Adam Nadasdy: Born 1947 in Budapest, Adam Nadasdy is a poet and professor of linguistics with a special interest in the Hungarian language. He is a well-known columnist and is also highly regarded for his witty, contemporary translations of Shakespeare's plays. An acute observer, his memories of childhood in the early years of the Communist era are both comic and poignant.
12 June 2005: Jachym Topol and Laszlo Garaczi
Jachym Topol: Born 1965 in Prague, Jachym Topol is one of the most original, hippest writers in the Czech Republic, a prize-winning novelist, rock lyricist, poet and journalist. From a famous literary dissident family, he was active himself in the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Co-founder of the underground magazines Violit and Revolver Revue, he was imprisoned for smuggling publishing equipment across the Polish border in cooperation with Polish Solidarity.
Topol's novel City Sister Silver is published by Catbird Press.
Laszlo Garaczi: Born 1956 in Budapest, Laszlo Garaczi is an award-winning author whose provocative autobiographical fiction reflects his Communist upbringing during the sixties in Hungary. His work, which includes drama for stage and screen, is adventurous in both style and theme.
Garaczi's novel in English is titled Lemur, Who Are You?, published by Noran.
Memory and Myth: The Rebirth of Central Europe was produced for Writers & Company by Sandra Rabinovitch. Special thanks to Eva Karadi of Hungarian Lettre Internationale, Alexandra Buchler of AB, Literature Across Frontiers (website at http://www.lit-across-frontiers.org), and Tomasz Pindel of the Polish Book Institute, for their invaluable assistance.