Saturday, February 20, 2021

Kateřina Tučková

photo credit: Lenka Hatašová
Kateřina Tučková is a Czech playwright, publicist, biographer, art historian, exhibition curator, and bestselling author of Gerta and The Žítková Goddesses. She has won several literary awards, including the Magnesia Litera Award (for both Gerta and The Žítková Goddesses), the Brno City Award for literature, the Josef Škvorecký Award, and the Czech Bestseller Award. Tučková is also the recipient of the Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights Award by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, and of the Premio Libro d’Europa at the Book Fair in Salerno, Italy. Between 2015 and 2018, she was a founder and first president of the Meeting Brno festival, focusing on international and intercultural dialogue. Kateřina Tučková currently lives in Prague and Brno, Czech Republic. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages. Gerta is her first to be translated into English.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The book, which American readers can read under the title Gerta, in its original language bears a much more explicit title – Vyhnání Gerty Schnirch [The Expulsion of Gerta Schnirch]. In a Czech context, the German name of the title character immediately raises several questions: Why was a German girl expelled from a country inhabited by Czechs? Was she guilty of some offence? Did she deserve her punishment? What happened to her? Using the second half of the twentieth century as a backdrop, I then offer an answer that is a criticism of collective guilt, which after the end of World War II was brought down on the heads of even those who were innocent. Many of them paid with their lives – in the so-called Brno Death March in May of 1945, some 1,700 women, children and elderly persons died and were buried in a mass grave about which nothing was known for over forty years.

What's in a name?

I named my heroine Gerta in memory of one of the victims who didn’t survive the Death March. The Schnirch family was also deported, but there was no Gerta among them. Although the story in the book mirrors events that really happened, it is not a biographical narrative about a concrete person.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage self would probably not be surprised by the kind of literature I write because I’ve always inclined toward historical novels that by nature don’t tend to be particularly cheerful. What certainly would have been a surprise, though, was that writing about the tragedy of post-war settlements between Czechs and Germans would lead me to become a researcher, digging through archives for secret reports, and an investigative journalist, searching for a mass grave in the fields outside of Brno. Writing this novel led me through several professions.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Definitely beginnings. I return to them often and I rewrite them, whereas the final chapters, those I typically enjoy. By then I know all of the characters in the book well enough so that the last chapter tends to be just a beautiful and poignant farewell dance.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Gerta’s story is based on real events and there are appearances by concrete historical figures. Although the title character is fictional, I wrote about her with an awareness of how women who found themselves in her situation experienced the given circumstances. I didn’t consciously project myself into any of the heroines in Gerta, however, I was so deeply immersed in their thoughts, desires and dreams, that I can’t say for sure that on some pages of the book we didn’t merge.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I would say most of all the environment. In Brno, where Gerta’s story unfolds, there are still neighborhoods where it’s obvious at first glance that something strange must have happened there in the past. This was actually how I came up with the idea of writing Gerta’s story in the first place – when, at the age of 22, I moved into my own apartment, I discovered that a girl of the same age had been driven out of it under dramatic circumstances, regardless of the fact that she came from a mixed Czech-German family, had a six-month-old baby, and had not demonstrably participated in wartime events in any way. Even so, she wasn’t spared punishment for the name she had been born with. There was no way I could leave that alone!
Visit Kateřina Tučková's website.

--Marshal Zeringue