Jan Novák

Jan Novák (b. 1953), novelist, dramatist, scriptwriter, translator. He emigrated in 1969 and lived in Chicago from 1970 to 2008; he now lives in Prague, though he often returns to America. His books include On the Far Side of the Pond, Grandpa, So Far, So Good, Commies, Crooks, Gypsies, Spooks & Poets, The Grand Life, Willy‘s Dream Kit, Striptease Chicago and have been translated into several languages. Jan Novák has also co-authored the autobiography of Miloš Forman, The Turnaround, which was translated into 21 languages, and a graphic novel Zátopek with the illustrator Jaromír 99, which was published in German, French and Portuguese.  He is the recipient of major literary prizes including the Magnesia Litera for Book of the Year (2004) and the Josef Škvorecký Award (2007), as well as the Carl Sandburg Award for Chicago authors, and the Friends of Literature Award.

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So far so good

September 2011, 624 pages

Available material: English translation

Foreign editions: USA (Slavica Publishers, Indiana University), Poland (Ksiazkowe Klimaty), Hungary (Kalligram)

Rights sold: Serbia (Akademska knjiga)

A masterpiece. Novák has seized the most powerful material since 1945 that Czech history offers.

The true story of three young Czech men whose daring exploits of anti-Communist resistance and 1953 flight to West Berlin set off the largest manhunt in the history of the Eastern Bloc. To this day, whether the Mašín brothers were heroes or murderers is a point of contention that continues to divide the country. A touchy, sophisticated portrait of several extraordinary personalities – including father Mašín: soldier, legionnaire and one of the “Three Kings” of the Protectorate period, his wife Zdena, mother-in-law Emma, daughter Nenda, sons Josef and Ctirad Mašín as well as their friends and collaborators. The captivating and dramatic story of five youngsters armed with pistols facing a 20-thousand-strong army of East German Volkspolizei unfolds like a western. So Far So Good was awarded the Magnesia Litera as the Czech Book of the year 2004, became a best-seller and has been in print ever since.

“This is a contemporary thriller and the hard-to-believe actions of these people bring to mind the Northern sagas or Homer, which feature similar heroes. But in contrast to legends and myths, these were all actual people.”

Josef Škvorecký

“A novel of action, full of strong, uncommon emotion and logical, natural pathos. Everything races quickly toward the end. The means of presentation are so expressive that we get the feeling we may be overhearing the words of the characters themselves.”

MF Dnes

From the sample translation

13 SEPTEMBER 1951

This novel is true, it reels off a factual spool, and it’s a matter of fact that on Wenceslas Square in Prague, Radek Mašín and Milan Paumer flagged down a cab, it was the height of the Cold War when every day brought new casualties, they were killing in faraway Korea and right around the corner too, on the gallows and in the interrogation rooms of the secret police. It’s also a fact that the cab was a green Škoda Tudor driven by one Eduard Šulc and that it was late in the evening and the street lights were lit, but the hum of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts in which one experiences the present moment has evaporated from this minor event, and now only a novel can supply the texture of that place at that point in time, only a novel can flesh out the factual skeleton, so that the story might still retain, in some odd and mediated way, the throbbing flow of lived experience. So let’s say it’s cold and damp and a yellow haze dims the light of the street lamps, the green Škoda Tudor pulls up to the sidewalk and stops, Radek and Paumer are in no hurry to climb inside, they open the passenger door, Radek eyes the grey haired driver across the empty seat and asks him if he could take them all the way to Hradec Králové. This city lies a hundred kilometers east of Prague, taking a cab there costs more than a pair of leather shoes, so Eduard Šulc looks the two youths over carefully. Radek meets Šulc’s stare calmly, he is tall, blond, blue-eyed, and athletic, first impressions are his strong suit, but he’s only twenty one years old, he knows he has to come up with some sort of an explanation, he figures the less he says the better, “We don’t have a choice. If we’re not there in three hours, all hell is going to break loose.”

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