I ordered this book as a matter of course, simply because it’s another Slovak novel in English. But as soon as it arrived, I became even more intrigued by the circumstances of its publication than its plot. Because this novel, which first came out in 1958 in Slovak, was translated and printed in English in 1964 by a publisher in Prague. In other words, during the severe censorship of the immediate post-Stalinist era, this book was selected not only for public consumption in Czechoslovakia but to send a message to the hostile outside capitalist world of English speakers. How and why did this happen?
My suspicions, of course, were that author Rudolf Jašík must have been a true believer in the Communist cause, and from what I can find out about him, my suspicions were correct. After five months imprisoned by the Nazis for distributing Communist leaflets in 1940, Jašík came out more convinced than ever of the evils of fascism and the righteousness of the Reds. He fought in the Slovak puppet state’s army on the side of the Axis but sabotaged his own regiment, for which he was again imprisoned. Jašík didn’t waste either bout in prison but worked on his Russian and even tried to join the Soviet army at one point. After his second release from jail, he joined the partisans in the Slovak National Uprising. This most revered moment in Slovak national history actually failed, but it put Jašík in good stead with the regime change of 1948. He held prominent jobs in industry and the arts, organized study groups in Marxist-Leninist thought, and was allowed to publish his handful of novels and poetry.
I came to this, his most famous novel, expecting a work of pious and overt propaganda. In fact, it is considerably more subtle than that… Read More