A memoir of a father’s life as an anticommunist partisan, combined with an account of the political ups and downs of the Czech nation, from ancient times to the present.
Hurka (Writing/Tufts Univ.) toured Prague with his Aunt Mira after the fall of Communism in 1993, and he narrates the story of Czech resistance to the Nazi and Communist occupations while describing his own experiences in the city. Prague became one of the great sacrificial lambs of the 20th century: the author recounts how British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to placate Hitler by giving up Czechoslovakia during negotiations at Munich in 1938. When the Communists took power in 1944, Hurka’s grandfather was killed and his father, Josef, was jailed as a political prisoner on false charges. The author’s grandmother and his Aunt Mira were thus left to fend for themselves—enduring midnight raids from the Communist secret police as they attempted to ferret out information about Josef’s activities in the Underground. After surviving five Communist prisons, Josef came out of jail determined to fight. He joined a resistance group and helped Joseph Macek (an anticommunist politician) and his wife Bela escape Czechoslovakia in December 1949. After another dangerous mission in 1950, Josef disappeared and was reported dead—but in fact he had gone underground. The author recalls that his father “presented himself as a U.S. Air Force Captain, a meteorologist, a Colonel in the Norwegian army”—and that he “carried two pills . . . one to keep awake, another cyanide.” Eventually Josef defected to the US and was able to bring his family there to join him. Before leaving the land that his father had refused to return to, the author visited Hradcany Castle—the ancient palace of Bohemian kings, now home to the President of the Czech Republic—and noticed a flag flying from the battlements emblazoned with the motto Truth Prevails.
A modest but appealing account.