Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cooler than a postage stamp...

When I was a little girl, either my father or my grandfather showed me a stamp with the picture of a man on it. Underneath his picture was his name, Vančura, which just also happens to be my name. My father, or my grandfather, explained to me that this was a distant relation and that he happened to be a well-known Czech author. When I first heard about Czech Point, I realized that I had to do some research on this man.

His name, it turns out, is Vladislav Vančura, and he was born on June 23, 1891 in the small town of Háj, near Opava, Moravia to a middle-class family of Protestant noble descent. In 1905, he moved to Prague to attend school but struggled with the discipline and rigidity of the traditional schools. It would take the help of a private tutor before he could graduate and move on to University.

In 1915, Vladislav entered the Faculty of Law of Charles University in Prague, but switched to studying medicine one year later. It would be at University that he would meet his future wife, Ludmila 'Lida' Tuhá, a student of medicine herself. In 1921, Vladislav and Lida graduated from the university and opened up a surgical practice in Zbraslav.

Since his late teens, Vladislav had been writing short stories, novels, and reviews, and in 1929, he would devote himself completely to writing. He favored characters that acted, and in a time when many books featured introspective characters and plots driven by thought, offered little direct insight into his characters’ motivations. What made Vladislav’s writing so unique, however, was his use of language. He combined an ancient style of Czech, found in a Czech translation of the Bible from the 16th century, with modern colloquialisms. His style is so unique, in fact, that it has actually made translations into other languages incredibly difficult.

Throughout his life, Vladislav was an on and off again member of the Communist Party, and in 1939, in response to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, he joined the underground Communist resistance. In May 1942, Gestapo arrested Vladislav, and later that month, he was killed as part of Hitler’s response to the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

So there it is, and a heck of a lot cooler than a stamp. Vladislav has a fairly descent English Wikipedia article, but most of the information I was able to find on him came from English translations of Czech websites. Both Summer of Caprice and The End of the Old Times have been translated into English, and are currently available at Amazon. So check Vladislav out, and immerse yourself in some Czech culture.

-Liz Vancura, former Opera Colorado Education intern

In other cultural news, Czech Mix just saw that playwright and former Czech president Vaclav Havel just completed on-location filming on the movie adaptation of his stage drama Leaving - read the article here.

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