NYU Prague Site Director launches the English translation of his novel

Jiří Pehe is well-known as a political analyst, a prolific writer of news commentary and the former political adviser to President Vaclav Havel. Fewer people know that he is also a novelist who has published three books in Czech over the past ten years. In December, he launched the first English translation of one of his novels – Three Faces of an Angel – at the Vaclav Havel Library in Prague and at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London as well as at the Czech Embassy in London. Another launch is planned for the spring of 2015 in New York City.
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[Photo Credit: (c) Vaclav Havel Library / Vojtěch Stádník]
Described by Czech award-winning author Ivan Klima as “one of the most outstanding novels written in the Czech lands since 1989,“ Pehe’s book tells the story of three generations of a Czech-German-Jewish family in the 20th century. The tragic events of this period of Central European history are intertwined with the characters‘ stories: a talented musician is forced to become a soldier for the Austrian Empire during WWI… a teenage girl hides from the Nazis in a cellar for a year… an idealist joins the Communist party and is then persecuted by its leaders … a student fights for freedom during the Prague Spring….. Characters grapple with questions about history, politics, identity and religion. In the forward to the book, Dr. Marketa Goetz-Stankiewitz writes that „the novel uncovers this turbulent period with its linguistic, national and racial complexities: its brutality occasionally tempered by humour, and ultimately its absurdity.“
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[Photo Credit: (c) Vaclav Havel Library / Vojtěch Stádník]
Language plays a central role in the book: characters grow up speaking Czech and German, and the choice of which language to speak is closely linked to their sense of identity. Translator Gerald Turner had to find distinct voices for the three narrators: a man educated in German but writing in Czech, a woman with only an elementary-school education writing her memoir, and a Czech university professor living in the USA.
Jiří Pehe says: “I was pleasantly surprised by the large audiences at all three book launches as well as the lively discussions the novel’s themes provoked. Hopefully, many English-language readers will agree with the quote on the back cover by Tomas Halik, this year’s winner of the prestigious Templeton Prize; that this is an unusual novel about the 20th century, the Holocaust and in particular also about God. Those three topics were foremost on my mind when I starting writing the novel.“

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