The Odyssey and Dr. Novak: A Memoir
Author: Ann C. Colley
ISBN Printed Text: 978-1-63152-343-4
ISBN E-Text: 978-1-63152-344
Publication Date: May 2018
Publisher: She Writes Press
1563 Solano Avenue #546
Berkely, CA 94707
CONTACT: Crystal Patriarche, BookSparks
READINGS AND EVENTS
—April 11, 2019, Cultural Arts at the Jewish Community Center, Buffalo, NY; See flyer here.
"What are you looking for when you can’t stop looking at a photo from your childhood? In Ann C. Colley’s case, the picture was of herself, aged nine, standing alongside a Czech doctor who was visiting her family home, a Unitarian parsonage in a bomb-damaged town near Manchester, just after the Second World War. All she knows is that he was called Dr Novak and that he ran the Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. The warmth of that 1946 encounter was never to leave Colley, but “I never saw or heard of him again. I do not even recall his first name.”
This is a nuanced, subtle and luminous reading of a region whose past is full of suffering… Colley only wrote her book after the times veered back towards despair, notably in Ukraine, where the conflict with Russia of the past four years has lost the country not only Crimea and the industrial east but also many citizens’ lives. Colley writes with elegance. She has an impressionistic, magpie way of building up her story – a joke here, a street encounter there... [The memoir] is never far away from a considered reflection on where politics is going. (Times Literary Supplement, excerpt)
“This elegantly written memoir is an elaborate tapestry blending the countries’ troubled histories with the author’s in-depth observations of people, places, and customs.” (Kirkus Review excerpt)
“A highly informative memoir that explores Poland and Ukraine; the book should appeal to those who revel in the poetry of intricate prose.” (Kirkus Review excerpt)
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Odyssey and Dr. Novak is a memoir of the author’s occasionally difficult, sometimes comic, and often lyrical daily life in Poland and Ukraine, in 1995 and 2000. Recalling personal experiences as well as poignant images of the landscapes she passed through, the author creates a complex, composite portrait of a time between the fall of the Soviet Union and the recent resurgence of a Russian threat. Throughout remembrances of war, the Soviet presence, and the Holocaust shadow the narrative.
The Odyssey and Dr. Novak is a memoir that originates on a warm summer afternoon in northern England in 1946. It was then, as a child, Ann Colley met Dr. Novak, who had come from Prague to speak about the post-war recovery in Czechoslovakia. This encounter launched her lifelong fascination with Central and Eastern Europe and resulted in her spending two years, in 1995 and 2000, teaching at universities in Poland and Ukraine – countries dominated not only by the shadows of their remembrances of the war and the Holocaust but also by their struggles to chart their course after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Neither country, particularly Ukraine, expected that just over a decade later Russian troops would seize Ukrainian territory and take back Crimea.
Recording personal experiences and descriptions of the landscape she passed through, the author creates a composite portrait of these countries and a collage of her sometimes-solitary life and travel during these years. She recalls moments and particulars that are sad, absurd, ugly, painful, humorous, endearing, discordant, frustrating, reassuring, and distressing: e.g. a missing parrot flies through the window, a robber on a train threatens the author’s life, clouds of smoke from Chernobyl hang over Kiev, and the ravens by the tram stop lean toward one another to keep warm. The memoir closes by returning to the figure of Dr. Novak when the author searches through the archives of the Harvard Divinity School Library and reads letters sent from Prague in 1945. These letters bluntly and graphically portray what Dr. Novak experienced before she met him. They speak of a past that pursues the present.