Jindra Ticha “death and forgiveness”

The book opens with two funerals on the first page. The narrator’s train of thought flows from black swans via logic to relationship with the dead in the coffin, to the realisation that what she’s been told is not what she experiences. Within a few opening pages the narrator ponders death and its effect on memories, mother love, family loyalty and the burden it entails. She writes about the prevalence of life and death and shares the hope a family of squirrel provides her with by dancing up and down trees during her mother’s funeral. She writes about death and faith, the diverse living conditions in Eastern Europe and NZ and about the impossibility to know another person even if you’ve shared decades of life.

If openings are meant to provide a hook into the story, this book promises a wide range of topics, and it fulfills its promises. It’s a reflection on life and death written with the distance of disbelief. The disparity between the consequences of the expected natural death of the old mother and the unexpected self-inflicted death of the husband causes the narrator to question everything.

The book continues with astute, deeply personal yet seemingly non-judgmental observations of differences between nationalities, political systems and beliefs as shaped by the system we grow up in. Observations into rich and poor, education versus manual labour, love versus marriage and commitment.

The book opened my eyes in numerous ways. I grew up in a divided Germany where communism and its values were present yet distant, demonized but not experienced. Its oppression and lack of freedom were central to my awareness.

Reading the personal journey of a woman who lived unquestioningly in a communist country provided me with a glimpse into the world behind the iron curtain.

The narrator’s emigration is forced – she lost her job and as a political enemy of the state leaving her home country was her best option to survive. Leaving Europe was determined by her husbands job opportunity and her grief about leaving the history, the culture and diversity of the old world is conscious, deep and real. For her home country was locked and inaccessible.

Throughout the book the narrator contradicts herself depending on the topic. About her life as immigrant she writes ‘what a miserable time I had for the next 20 years.’ Contemplating her life as married woman, committed to marriage and family, her reminiscence is about security, safety and happiness. Yet, the only time she fell passionately in love was in Prague. While her husband Jan was working in London she lived with her lover, and heartbrokenly left the lover behind when following her husband to the other side of the iron curtain and the other end of the world.

These contradictions in her own statements, and the puzzlement over contradictions she observes appeal to me. The narrator experiences moments of bliss and happiness above the omnipresent grief about loss of family, country, language and all that is familiar.

If her husband found the love of his life – a young Russian woman he left her for – why did he kill himself? After 35 years of marriage, why was he so destructive in separation? What and who can you trust? What happens to the life if its foundations break?

It’s not only the book in its entirety that fascinates me. Interspersed are snippets easily extracted and shared. Taken out of context they are delightful observations of society and its odd ways. Wondering why she never heard of Napoleon’s famous battle of Austerlitz the narrator discovers that the name of the battlefield had been changed in English from its Czech origin to fit foreign tongues:

“Our little nation seemed to be invisible in the vast expanses of world history.

I saw that I had much to learn in this new world of immigration, perhaps to the extent of relearning my own history.”

Her ruminations about 10.30 am morning tea, of English snobs and the value of money are delightful.  Overall a delightful, charming, thought provoking book that allows its reader to see the world through different eyes. I highly recommend reading ‘death and forgiveness’. J.

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