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Jaroslava Blažková: an Introduction
By Andrew Stancek

Jaroslava Blažková The eminent Slovak writer Jaroslava Blažková has a world view that is always ironic, even cynical, her tone self-deprecating. Now seventy-five, she has been writing professionally since seventeen, and has among her many credits a Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1964, a Mladé Letá Best Fiction Prize of 1968, and the prominent SME Readers' Prize for 2005. She has written for children, young adults and adults, short stories, novels and a memoir. Two of her works have been filmed, and numerous fictions translated into thirteen languages. In her first book-length work, Nylonový Mesiac (Nylon Moon), the protagonist boasts that "whenever he got into trouble, he tried not to think about it. He had considerable training in this trait, and was understandably proud of it." Her most recent book, a memoir of her caregiving in the last four years of her husband's life, end with "These were years of confusion and hurry, filled with love and fury, despair and extravagance, hellish, heavenly, but always full of life, life, life..." Her writing can be seen as encompassing these three qualities: a dismissal of trouble, a longing to overcome, but most importantly a need to live life to the fullest.

Jaroslava Blažková had to leave her homeland and her highly successful career behind in 1968, after the Soviet occupation. Erased from public consciousness by the authorities, her works shredded, she was an unknown for over twenty years even in Czechoslovakia. Living in Canada, a master of Slovak language, but with only rudimentary English, with no prospect of ever being published again, led to a period of non-writing depression. The fall of communism in 1989 rejuvenated her. Some earlier books have been republished and she has written new ones. She has visited Bratislava repeatedly to triumphant response; lines at her signings are enormous. Slovak literary critics are increasingly studying her work; published interviews abound. A prominent critic, Ondrej Sliacky, calls her a "legend of modern Slovak prose."

In a 1997 interview she says, "Some griefs are inconsolable, some stages of life cannot be returned to. The year 1989 came too late for me. When I received a letter from Bratislava, asking how I imagined my rehabilitation, it seemed absurd to me. All I wish for is to have all my books in print again, accessible to readers." Readers in Slovakia have had a chance to discover or rediscover her work for the last twenty years. Readers in English are about to get those opportunities as well: currently, two translators are making her work accessible in English, one translating her short stories, another her recent memoir.

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By Jaroslava Blažková
Translated by Andrew Stancek

They walked along the flat land of the outdoor gardening centre, the woman and the boy. At the back the sun was reflecting off the greenhouses as if they were huge diamonds thrown into the rich loam. The air was redolent with clary sage, wilting cauliflower leaves, a field of outreaching, shouting carnations.

In a weary voice the woman scolded, "Don't dawdle, come!"

The child whined, "I am thirsty!"

"Just come, come!"

But the boy crouched down. "Oh, look!" he cried out. From under the wet straw two dung beetles crawled out, metallic black, with rainbow flashes on their shells, a male with a female.

"See," he said accusingly. "The beetle's mommy is carrying her child on her back and you don't want to carry me!"

"But you know that I can't."


"Your dad explained to you that I am not allowed to carry anything heavy."

"But why?"

"Because very soon you will have a little brother. Or a little sister."

The child skipped along, ran after a blue icarus butterfly which, full of shivery blue desire, was chasing his mate.

"I will have a brother. And I know who it will be!"


"Dusan Vodnar!"

"But Dusan Vodnar is the child of Mrs. Vodnar. He can't be born to us. We will have a brand new son, and he will have the same name as you!"


"No. You are Miro Kulka; he will be Duro Kulka."

The child began giggling. "Kulka! That is the funniest, mom! Dad is Kulka, I am Kulka, and the little one will be Kulka! The whole world will be made into Kulkas. You are sure it could not be Dusan Vodnar?"

"No, little one. It really could not."

"Because if we got Dusan Vodnar, we would know exactly what we are getting. But this way they could stick us with any old child. Some cross-eyed kid. Or one without legs."

The woman wiped her face. "What silliness is this?"

"Oh yeah, yeah. You think I don't know how children are made? They glue them together. First the body, then they glue on the arms, paint them pink, and put them out to dry. Sometimes they have bad glue and a leg comes off, or the head, and that's that!"

"Who on earth filled your head with such nonsense?"

"No one. I know that all by myself."

The woman sighed. The sky was grey-blue, a woodlark shimmered in the heat. Cucumbers crawled along the parched rows, their yellow funnel flowers sucked in the sun. Water dripped from a tap and the earth drank it in through the cracks.

The woman turned on the water, gave some to the boy. He snorted into her locked palms like a colt, a small pink animal with a moving snout. She tied a knot on each corner of a hankie, placed it on his head, and said,

"Do you know where little rabbits come from?"

"From the mom rabbit, of course," he said, insulted that she was quizzing him on something that obvious.

"And kittens?"

"From a mom cat."

"Well then. Nobody glues them together and nobody paints them. Not cats, not children. Everything that lives, grows up in a mommy, and then gets born. Even your brother."

"What?" He lifted his eyes, grey with rusty sparks. "Do you mean to tell me that it will get born from you?" "Yes."

"You are really not pulling my leg?"

"Really and truly. Why are you so surprised?"

"That it is something that YOU could do. You can't even drive!"

He looked at her full of surprise and admiration, curious, as if suddenly she appeared to him in a totally different light.

"And now you know why Dusan Vodnar can't get born to us. Our boy is with us, even now. You can put your hand on him."

She took his little paw, grimy with sand, and put it on her apron.

The child ripped his hand out of hers, as if burnt, and full of wonder his mouth formed an "oh". A moment of silence.

"Wanna get going?" she suggested.

The boy stared at the pockets of her apron in fascination: "You carried me like that right next to you, too?"

"Of course," she pulled him to her.

"And here I thought that in the hospital they just hand the children out."

"But it is more beautiful this way, isn't it?"

"More beautiful," he agreed. Then slowly he moved his ear towards the polka-dotted cloth.

"Kulka, little brother," he whispered. "Are you there? Say something, bro!"

"He is still sleeping," the woman said. "His ears are still covered over. But when his time comes, he will knock and jump out."

"When he is ripe, right?"

"Exactly. And then we will know if you have a brother or a sister."

The child was shaking his head, lost in thought. He put a twig into the tap, spraying the water onto fat, overripe cucumbers, resembling piglets.

She took his hand and guided him, stunned by the sun and the miraculous knowledge, down the field path, between unending rows of tomato plants, heavy with their red fruit.

He dragged his feet through the dust, thoughtfully watching the clouds around his knees.

"Mom," he asked. "And how did he get to you?"


"Well, he and I. Where did we come from to you?"

"Where do chicks come from?"

"From an egg?"

"From an egg."

"So I am also from an egg?"

"You could say that you are."

"And if I eat an egg, I will also grow a brother? Oh, I get it now," he shook his hand impatiently, "I know: if you eat a soft-boiled egg, a girl gets born. If a hard-boiled one, it is a boy. I will only eat hard-boiled ones, and I will make myself brothers, oh, about six of them, all of them big, so we can play soccy together."

"What is it you want to play?"

"Well, soccer of course."

The woman held back her laughter: "Children are always, always, born to mommies. And not from soft-boiled eggs. You were born from an egg which was a gift from your dad. Because at the very beginning there has to be a mom and a dad and they have to be good to each other, so that the child will come into a proper family. So that they love him, and look after him till he grows up."

"Oh," said the child. "That is a good plan."

He picked a pea-pod off the vine, split it open and had an idea: "Mom, since I grew in you, I am like your little pea. And the other one will be a second pea. And when there is five of us, you will be like the pod and we will be your peas."

He picked out the peas, poured them onto his tongue and mouth full, said: "We grew in you, so we really are all yours, even the new Kulka. I will lend him everything then. Even my skates!"

The woman smiled, but only inwardly, softly, as mothers do. From the field the women called out: "Mrs. Kulka, how soon now?"

And at him: "A stork will bring you a little sister!"

He looked around, and full of the secret knowledge he whispered: "They don't know? Too bad for them." And he added, "Our child really should have the most beautiful name ever. If it is a brother, he should be Gooseberry. And a sister could be Radish."

The sun reflected in the greenhouses as if they were huge diamonds thrown into the rich loam. The young woman supervisor came out with a basket of strawberries: "Come have some, Mrs. Kulka. They are so sweet, just smell them."

The woman took a strawberry, placed it in the boy's mouth. "Such heat," she said. "Like before harvest."

The earth resounded with ripening and the insistent trilling of crickets.