#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews MY SEVEN LIVES: JANA JURÁŇOVÁ IN CONVERSATION WITH AGNEŠA KALINOVÁ

The titular ‘seven lives’ of the Slovak journalist Agneša Kalinová are seven clearly defined periods in her life, closely corresponding with the huge historical changes that shook Europe in the twentieth century – specifically Central Europe, and even more specifically (Czecho)Slovakia. Agneša’s seven lives are her early childhood in the First Czechoslovak Republic (1924–1942); the Second World War and the Holocaust; the Stalinist period after the war; the Prague Spring (1968); the Normalisation period (1969–1978); life in exile (1978–1990); and the independent Slovak Republic (1990–2014). Kalinová’s life is like a lens refracting twentieth-century history. Sometimes when you zoom in on particular details, you get a bigger picture…

Agneša was born in 1924, to a Jewish family in Prešov, a city full of culture, a melting pot of Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks and Jews, both orthodox and reformed. Antisemitism started rearing its ugly head as the war approached. Agneša survived the Holocaust in hiding, in a convent in Budapest, and then returned to Slovakia. But the antisemitism didn’t disappear with the end of the war; people around her were being arrested, tried and convicted – most famously at the Slánský trial in 1952. It was a particularly difficult time for Agneša; this particular wave of antisemitism seemed to have shaken her more than the previous ones before and during the war. But her personal life must have been a respite – she married Laco (Ján Ladislav) Kalina and the couple had a daughter, Julka. 

As life in Czechoslovakia slowly became better, Agneša travelled to film festivals across Europe, and interviewed the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. She was about to go to Venice in 1968 when Czechoslovakia was invaded by Warsaw Pact troops. The Venice trip was scrapped, and Agneša remained in Bratislava and watched the tanks rolling down the streets of her city. Several days later the whole family fled to Austria, but they eventually returned home. 

The Prague Spring of 1968 was followed by the period known as Normalisation. During this time, Laco lost his job and the Kalina family had a listening device installed under their floorboards, which they discovered only by accident. In 1972 both Laco and Agneša were arrested. She was released soon after, but he remained behind bars for a year, during which time his health was permanently damaged. Despite all that they only decided to leave the country when Julka was not allowed to study at university. They moved to Munich, where Agneša started working for Radio Free Europe and Laco threw himself into writing. He died of cancer in 1981. Angeša never returned to the independent Slovak Republic, but she visited often after in 1989. She died in Munich in 2014.

This rather complicated story of the turbulent twentieth century is captured in Kalinová’s conversation with the publisher, writer and playwright Jana Juráňová. The story is made personal, peppered with anecdotes and details from Agneša’s life, which bring colour, taste and smell to what might otherwise be a dry historical account. What makes this book even more personal is the fact that it has been translated into English by Julia Sherwood – who is none other than Kalinová’s daughter, Julka – and her husband, Peter Sherwood, both renowned translators from numerous languages.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak

MY SEVEN LIVES: JANA JURÁŇOVÁ IN CONVERSATION WITH AGNEŠA KALINOVÁ

Translated by Julia Sherwood and Peter Sherwood

Published by Purdue University Press (2021)

July 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her translation of Maciej Hen’s According to Her is forthcoming. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of ISLAND MOUNTAIN GLACIER by Anne Vegter

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of LITTLE DEAD RABBIT by Astrid Alben, illustrated by Zigmunds Lapsa

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE LITTLE BOOK OF PASSAGE and AT AN HOUR’S SLEEP FROM HERE: POEMS (2007-2019) by Franca Mancinelli

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of WITHIN THE SWEET NOISE OF LIFE: SELECTED POEMS by Sandro Penna

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of A NEW ORTHOGRAPHY by Serhiy Zhadan

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of I’D LIKE TO SAY SORRY, BUT THERE’S NO ONE TO SAY SORRY TO by Mikołaj Grynberg

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of FOUCAULT IN WARSAW by Remigiusz Ryziński

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of SOMEWHERE A BLIND CHILD by Ion Cristofor

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of FIVE BOOKS by Ana Blandiana

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of MADGERMANES by Birgit Weyhe

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BICKI-BOOKS by various authors

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THINGS I DIDN’T THROW OUT by Marcin Wicha

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE BOOK OF VENICE. A CITY IN SHORT FICTION edited by Orsola Casagrande

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of IN MEMORY OF MEMORY by Maria Stepanova

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of CITY OF SANDCASTLES by Hagar Peeters

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NIGHT TRUCK DRIVER by Marcin Świetlicki

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of I AM A FIELD FULL OF RAPESEED, GIVE COVER TO DEER AND SHINE LIKE THIRTEEN OIL PAINTINGS LAID ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER by Ulrike Almut Sandi

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HANA by Alena Mornštajnová

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NO TIME LIKE NOW by Andrei Codrescu

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of UNDER CLOUDED SKIES and BEAUREGARD / PENSÉES SOUS LES NUAGES et BEAUREGARD by Philippe Jaccottet

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BITTER GRASS by Gëzim Hajdari

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of TRACING THE UNSPOKEN by Milan Šelj

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of PIXEL by Krisztina Tóth

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of BLUEPRINT by Theresia Enzensberger

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of TIDAL EVENTS. SELECTED POEMS by Mária Ferenčuhová

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HAVING NEVER MET by Inga Pizāne

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of GAMES WITH GRETA & OTHER STORIES by Suzana Tratnik

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of HYDRA’S HEADS by Nora Gomringer

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of WHATEVER THE NAME by Pierre Lepori

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GALLOPING HOUR: FRENCH POEMS by Alejandra Pizarnik

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of CARAVAN LULLABIES by Ilzė Butkutė

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of SEVEN STONES by Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GREEN CROW by Krīstine Ulberga

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE GREAT PLAN B by Justyna Bargielska

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of NIEWAŻKOŚĆ by Julia Fiedorczuk

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of THE ANGELS DIE by Yasmina Khadra

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of LULLABY FOR A HANGED MAN by Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of QUIET FLOWS THE UNA by Faruk Šehić

Read Anna Blasiak’s #‎RivetingReview of DYGOT by Jakub Małecki

Category: July 2022Reviews

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

X