At book signings and in various social settings, I am invariably asked: “What made you decide to write your book?” It’s a simple question without a simple answer. I began to give it passing thoughts in the early 1990s when I began an emotional journey of reconnecting with my native country of Czechoslovakia. My father had passed away and my mother was frail and often ill. It was then that I began to appreciate the horrors and unspeakable hardships my parents had endured during their lifetimes and the incredible courage which had pulled them – with me in tandem – through it all.
My initial intention was to record the saga of our family for our son, his children, and those who will follow them in the future. But, as I began to read vignettes from my journals to teachers and fellow writers, colleagues who assured me that they were not merely stroking my ego, repeatedly said to me: “Your story isn’t just for your family; it has important historical value.” One even told me: “Anne Frank was the most important child of the 20th century. She died. You managed to survive, and your story must be told.” When I spoke with young people and discovered how little they knew about World War II, I was swayed even more. Reading the venomous words of Holocaust deniers who are determined to make the world forget six million murdered souls sealed the deal for me. I had to bear witness.
Writing had been my hobby from the time I fell in love with the English language. While pursuing my multiphase career as an engineer, an academic, an entrepreneur, and a venture capitalist, I always wrote on the side. I was a newspaper columnist and a magazine freelancer, and I even authored a small technical book. But, I had never written anything resembling a memoir. To my astonishment, the journey toward becoming a memoirist has taken ten years. It has consisted of taking tens of classes, consultations with accomplished writers, suggestions and encouragement from my writers’ group, and reading a ton of books. And, of course: writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting, and more rewriting.
My first breakthrough came when Mladá Fronta, one of the largest publishers in the Czech Republic, published the Czech translation of my memoir, titled Dlouhá cesta domů, in April 2011. Now, finally, English speakers are reading Prague:My Long Journey Home. They tell me they like it. I am elated.
I have never been big on memoirs, but this one caught my attention and kept it from beginning to end. Rarely do I devour a book in one sitting, but that’s exactly what happened when I read this one on Saturday morning. I opened as I started to drink my morning coffee and didn’t put it down until the last word, which was about three hours later.