Under a cruel star

Under a cruel star

She says repeatedly that, after the war, "I did not feel like getting involved in politics. For a time, the Margoliuses lived like royalty, albeit reluctantly, but then, in a replay of the Stalinist purges of the s, Rudolf and others, mostly of Jewish background, were arrested and hung in the infamous Slansky Trial of At one point in her book, Heda describes a familiar sensation that supports the previous claim that in order to build a stable future for herself and her nation, she had to take an active role in constructing it.

On the contrary, she seems to have been highly assimilated. For readers unfamiliar with the history of Eastern Europe, Kovaly added paragraphs explaining Stalin's cult of personality, the slow thaw of Stalinism in Czechoslovakia as opposed to elsewhere in the region, and the dreary daily reality of life in Stalinist Prague.

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Unlike many Czechoslovaks during this period, Kovaly not only never truly believed in Communism or the Soviet Union as a model; she never even voted Communist, despite her husband's staunch faith and high position. Her skepticism toward the party was as unwavering as her husband's commitment to it.

I can imagine at those point in times when she was in the Litzmannstadt Ghetto and suffering through the communist regime did the little bird begin to flutter and she found herself in a better place.

slansky trial

This book is a winner. Opening it I wondered, what would this book give me? Kovaly's instincts direct her to take Franta's side during this debate, but despite her attraction to interwar democratic values, she cannot bring herself to accept Franta as her exemplar.

Under a cruel star page count

In justifying his decision to refuse Kovaly shelter, Franta uses dubious logic: "'Forgive me, but I can't imagine how you can save yourself. During one march with other female prisoners she manages to escape, saying later that living requires much less effort than waiting passively to die. Suspicion and subterfuge is everywhere and in , Rudolf, serving as a government minister, is arrested and tried on manufactured treason charges as part of the infamous Slansky trial. Why they made the choices they made are clearly shown. But he had not taken any risks either. Kovaly herself seems to bridge this divide; she is both courageous and pragmatic, willing to take risks for those she loves but also deeply desirous of a quiet home and peaceful family life. Yet even Rudolf cannot avoid seeing the growing terror caused by waves of arrests. The author states very clearly that, "I was more interested in what was happening around me in the present, among the people I loved, than in the foggy spheres of ideology. Starting with her accounts of being in the concentration camps, Heda highlights the ignorance and fear that are very present in totalitarian regimes. You learn what it was like to be living then and there. After so long under Nazi oppression, Prague has become both increasingly anti-Semitic and frightened to help returning Jews for fear of retribution. Kovaly does contextualize Communism's popularity in post-war Czechoslovakia, as I explain below; however, the context is clearly provided in bitter hindsight. In the concentration camps, the fear of death was continuous as the prisoners witnessed the deaths of their friends and family unceasingly. She says: And then another familiar sensation took hold of me-that inner bracing of strength we discover when the worst has happened, when we know there is no way out and there can be no help coming from anyone but ourselves. This memoir can provide students with the opportunity to understand the humanity within these cataclysmic events in a significantly more meaningful way than reading about the statistics in a history textbook.

She believes that without this ability she would have never survived. Generally faithful to the Czech original, this text does more justice to Kovaly's own authorial voice.

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Under a Cruel Star: a Life in Prague , By Heda Margolius Kovály