A distinguished novelist and short story writer’s memoir about uncovering a painful family past he had “hidden…in fiction, story after story, book after book.”
Growing up, Slouka (Brewster, 2013, etc.) and his mother, Olinka, were “soulmates, a church of two.” She, along with the author’s father, Zdenek, had witnessed the Nazi occupation of their home country of Czechoslovakia. Despite their outward appearance as successful immigrants, however, it became clear— especially after Olinka divorced Zdenek and returned to live in Moravia—that a soul-destroying madness consumed her. Slouka examines his complicated relationship to his mother and re-creates his parents’ lives in an effort to come to terms with his own grief and guilt. In 1945, Olinka and Zdenek married. But that union, born of desperation rather than love, took place in the shadow of the abortion Olinka had of a child conceived in incest with her Nazi-sympathizer father. By 1948, Zdenek was forced to flee the country and live in exile. Just before the pair left, Olinka fell deeply in love for the first and last time in her life with F., a man to whom she continued to write even after she left Czechoslovakia for Australia with Zdenek. The correspondence ended before the Sloukas came to the United States, but a chance encounter on a trip back to Czechoslovakia nearly 30 years later brought Olinka and F. together again as lovers, until his untimely death several years later. Broken and bitter, Olinka—who could not forgive her soul-mate son for growing up and loving other women—divorced Zdenek and left the U.S. for home. Dependent on pills that accelerated the development of Alzheimer’s disease, she died “raging at the world.” Slouka’s raw candor, narrative skill, and meticulous attention to the traps of his own memory make for powerful reading. However, it is his ability to confront the darkness in his past and acknowledge it as a shaping life force that makes this book especially engrossing.
A moving and intense memoir from a gifted author.