The award-winning novel by Czech author Kateřina Tučková tells the story about the fate of one woman and the pursuit of forgiveness in a divided postwar world. The author’s first work to be published in English, Gerta was translated from the Czech by Véronique Firkusny and is available now. In the coming weeks, Czech Center New York will bring you events about this exciting new book!
Spanning decades and generations, Kateřina Tučková’s breathtaking novel GERTA, translated by Véronique Firkusny, illuminates a long-neglected episode in Czech history. One of exclusion and prejudice, of collective shame versus personal guilt, all through the eyes of a charismatic woman whose courage will affect all the lives she’s touched. Especially that of the daughter she loved, fought for, shielded, and would come to inspire.
“I think [Gerta] is beautiful and relevant. One of its basic themes is the expulsion of the German population from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, but as a whole the novel carries a much broader theme that seems crucial to me today—that the mutual problems between people and nations will not be solved simply by an acknowledgment, and not even by an apology. An apology is just the beginning. We can admit our own guilt, take it on ourselves, but an even more difficult and important step, which is not spoken of so much and for which there are no laws or entitlements, is forgiveness—whether toward others or toward ourselves. For me, Gerta is a book about forgiveness.”
—Alice Nellis, director of the Czech TV adaptation of Gerta
It’s late spring 1945. Allied forces liberate Nazi-occupied Brno, Moravia. For Gerta Schnirch, daughter of a Czech mother and a German father aligned with Hitler, it’s not deliverance; it’s a sentence. She has been branded an enemy of the state. Caught in the changing tides of a war that shattered her family—and her innocence—Gerta must obey the official order: she, along with all ethnic Germans, is to be expelled from Czechoslovakia. With nothing but the clothes on her back and an infant daughter, she’s herded among thousands toward Vienna, later to be termed The Brno Death March, where many die from typhoid and dysentery. Gerta and a handful of other German women manage to save themselves by doing forced labor in southern Moravia, where they remain for several years. After reclaiming her Czechoslovakian citizenship, Gerta returns to Brno, where she lives through the turbulent events of the second half of the twentieth century. But the discrimination only makes Gerta stronger and more empowered to seek justice. Her journey is a relentless quest for a seemingly impossible forgiveness.
“This novel is written with a compelling zeal and engaging style that make it impossible to put down,” explained translator, Véronique Firkusny in an article for LitHub back in 2017 titled, 10 Books by Czech Women We’d Like to See in English. “It shines a spotlight on a long-neglected episode in Czech history and exposes the devastating effects of social cycles that operate on the premise of collective guilt, which sanctions crimes against a population based solely on ethnicity. As these cycles are being perpetuated even today, the issues Tučková explores are of global relevance.”
“The so-called ‘Brno Death March’ was, until the revolution in 1989, tabooed by the communist regime, and when I learned about it, I wanted to come to terms with it in the space of a novel,” said Kateřina Tučková. “I tried to find personal witnesses of the march and luckily, I found two women who were willing to share their sad experiences with me. Their stories, together with the correspondence with another woman, was the basis for Gerta’s story.”
Winner of the Magnesia Litera Readers’ award and short-listed for the Jiří Orten Award, the Josef Škvorecký Award and the Magnesia Litera in the prose category, GERTA is a poignant and powerful story that will remain with readers long after the last page is read.
Kateřina Tučková is a Czech playwright, publicist, biographer, art historian, exhibition curator, and bestselling author of Gerta and The Žítková Goddesses. She has won several literary awards, including the Magnesia Litera Award (for both Gerta and The Žítková Goddesses), the Brno City Award for literature, the Josef Škvorecký Award, and the Czech Bestseller Award. Kateřina is also the recipient of the Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Award by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, and of the Premio Libro d’Europa at the Book Fair in Salerno, Italy. Between 2015 and 2018, she was a founder and first president of the Meeting Brno festival, focusing on international and intercultural dialogue. Kateřina Tučková currently lives in Prague and Brno, Czech Republic. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages. Gerta is her first to be translated into English. In December 2020, her novel Bílá Voda will be published in Czech. For more information, visit www.katerina-tuckova.cz/en/.
Born in Switzerland to Czech parents, the late pianist Rudolf Firkusny and his wife, Tatiana, Véronique Firkusny grew up in a trilingual, musical household that sparked a lifelong passion for language, literature, and music. She translates primarily from Czech to English, and her most recently published English translation is Daniela Hodrová’s novel A Kingdom of Souls, co-translated with Elena Sokol. Forthcoming publications include, in collaboration with Elena Sokol, Daniela Hodrová’s Puppets. Firkusny serves as the executive director of the Avery Fisher Artist Program of Lincoln Center and also coaches opera singers in Czech diction. A graduate of Barnard College, where she received a BA in Italian literature, she resides in New York City.
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