Years of Silence

Alena Mornštajnová

Alena Mornštajnová: Years of Silence

Original title: Tiché roky


Genre: novel


Publisher:

Host, 2019


ISBN: 978-80-7577-911-3


Pages: 296


Awards:

3rd prize in the Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll; readers' poll Book of the Year, organized by Čtení tě mění / Reading Changes You Endowment Fund – Book of the Year and Social Novel category 2019; Czech Bestseller Prize 2019


Foreign editions:

Macedonian (Muza, 2020), Croatian (Hena Com, 2020), Slovenian (Celjska Mohorjeva Družba, 2021), Arabian (Dar Al Hiwar, Syria, 2021)


Rights sold to:

Poland (Amaltea), Bulgaria (Ergo), Germany (Wieser Verlag), Slovakia (Aktuell), Latvia (Pētergailis)

Summary


There are many things we don’t know about those closest to us.

 

Bohdana is an introverted young girl who lives with her morose father and the kind-hearted, submissive Běla. She is troubled by tension at home and a question she can’t get out of her head: On her last visit to the hospital, why did her gravely-ill grandmother address her as ‘Blanka’?  

In a parallel story, Svatopluk Žák has dedicated his life to the building of socialism and his love for his wife and daughter, whose future will be as brilliant as a star on the red flag. If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans, as the saying goes. When the two stories meet, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seemed, and that things certainly aren’t as they should be.  

Unlike Alena Mornštajnová’s previous novels, Years of Silence is an intimate family drama; here, the main role is played by chance and human character rather than a great theme of history. Like Hana, Mornštajnová’s most successful work to date, it is a powerful, rousing tale that holds the reader in thrall from first page to last.     


Reviews

“Like her previous fiction, Years of Silence is an intimate family tale basically characterized by the circumstances and period in which it is set. This is, I believe, the basic reason for its appeal to readers. Just as  Michal Viewegh once had a great success with his Bliss Was it in Bohemia / Báječná léta pod psa, so Alena Mornštajnová offers a believable history with a familiar backdrop. Years of Silence reveals a family secret, a row that blew up in the 1970s.  (…) Alena Mornštajnová has a gift for telling a story in such a way that its twists and turns are revealed  gradually. She has the skill to hold the readers' attention at the same time as setting up surprises for them.

And this is precisely what explains the appeal of her narrative. These are not just black and white images, but a colourful canvas with a sense for the varied fortunes intertwined in all manner of ways in stories that are written in fine understandable language. However, their composition is not simple and straightforward. Mornštajnová has the ability to play with all kinds of combinations, skipping from the past to the future, but always in such a way that the readers do not lose their way in all the entanglements. Whereas her first work Blind Map / Slepá mapa was a discovery for me six years ago, Alena Mornštajnová is nowadays an author who sets the tone for Czech fiction. Quality and reader-appeal are not in opposition here.“    

Zdenko Pavelka, Mezi řádky, Kosmas

 

“Alena Mornštajnová's novels explain the complex events of our modern history at a basic human level. Why is my neighbour so unpleasant and tight-lipped? Was he always like that? What was he doing in the Communist Party? What was his life like before he moved here? How do his children and close family members see him? If this is what a contemporary Czech bestseller looks like I have no problem with that.“

Jan Bělíček, Alarm A2

 

“Not even the fourth novel by this author brings any laughter into our lives, but what it does bring is the lightness of its presentation.  Mornštajnová's language work is precise, conveying us through heavy, melancholic subjects as if these thoughts could not be expressed in any other way, providing us with precisely enough material to create our own precise image of the storyline, and leaving us in no doubt that things are so awful that they can only be expressed in a style that is austere to the point of bleakness. The text is sophisticated, but unembellished, with all superfluities dusted away, leaving an impression of meticulous work, with nothing added and nothing taken away.

(…)

Following Hana and Blind Map / Slepá mapa, Years of Silence can be described as another of the author's contributions to contemporary serious Czech literature. Alena Mornštajnová presents human relations and the inability to communicate in an exceptionally authentic manner. She might also potentially appeal to those readers who have not yet come across her works.“

Lucie Trávníčková, Deník N

 

“Living side by side is not the same as living together.  In her latest novel Alena Mornštajnová writes about these and other misfortunes in the world of human relations. Czech novelist  Alena Mornštajnová has shown that authors can become popular (and thus widely read) without any fantasy, horror or detective genre experiments. They can even get by without sex or raunchiness from the world of the wealthy, and they can do without utopias and dystopias. They have no need for surreal games or parenthetical documentary passages that make fiction converge with real history.

Mornštajnová has established herself with her sensitive, finely narrated stories that progressively fit in next to each other until they finally "settle" into the larger picture of history and human destiny.

(…)

This Czech novelist writes in the most straightforward style, and in every case of conflicting stories this turns out to be the right choice. She is careful of false sentiment, in which any sensitivity and emotional coordinates would entirely disappear.“   

Ľubomír Jaško, Knihy na dosah

 

“I was wondering why it was that this author, whose work is published by Host in Brno, has so grown on me; it will primarily be because she has succeeded in "humanizing" Czech literature and writing about things that we have already heard a million times before while avoiding clichés.  Add to this her unbelievable feeling for realistic portrayals of characters and the poignancy in her words that does not even for a moment turn into a maudlin tone, and you, too, will be ensnared.“

Jana Benešová, blog Martinus.cz

 

“Novelist and translator Alena Mornštajnová's work goes beyond the tradition of a substantial part of post-1989 literature, when authors primarily wrote about their own life experiences. (…)

The title Years of Silence is just as figurative as in the case of Hana, which was not just a name but also a depiction of shame (hana = blame)  over the tragedy that befell the Jewish people. Mornštajnová again shows herself to be a careful sketcher of her protagonists' psychology, as her readers have to combine both their own imagination and detective-like thinking.

(…) Mornštajnová does not make judgements or draw frequent forced parallels between  politically conceived textbook history and her characters' conduct, another reason why her fiction is so striking and authentic,  precisely because she knows very well that the best laid plans often go astray.

(…) The author won inter alia the Česká kniha 2018 award for her novel Hana, which was Book of the Year in 2017 on the Database of Books. She clearly does not belong to the more or less closed circle of mutually supporting journalists, critics and panellists who make the decisions about the highest literary awards. What is certain, however, is that she enjoys the genuine interest of several generations of readers.“

František Cinger, Právo

 

“On our literary scene, in which the word "mainstream" often has a pejorative ring to it, the representatives of the high-end literary mainstream do not have things easy. One example is writer Alena Mornštajnová  (…). For instance, not even her most successful novel to date, Hana, published in 2017 – a real bestseller that has so far earned a number of positive reviews – has yet been nominated for the Magnesia Litera award  (like The Žítková Goddeses / Žítkovské bohyně by Kateřina Tučková, for example).

(…)
Mornštajnová has again proven herself to be a talented narrator and an astute psychologist. She composes her story skilfully like a mosaic from two different sides, differing not only in their narrative perspective, but also in the narrative timeline. (…) All of her protagonists have a wealth of finely-wrought character, and although they sometimes appropriately illustrate selected period types (including the fervent Communist Svatopluk and the bourgeois Eva), and their frequently problematic confrontations on the field of partnership and family relations (for instance, Svatopluk and Eva's turbulent marriage), they remain full-blooded, multilayered characters, whose dramatic life stories totally absorb the readers, all the more so considering that not even this time does the author let us catch our breath much – except in the case of several key scenes, she again prefers a faster narrative tempo and a greater number of episodes over long drawn-out scenes and dialogues.

(…)

Very few things in the book remain unsaid or unexplained (although sometimes the author deliberately delays the explanation). Everything here has its clear cause. That is probably why Mornštajnová finally chooses an open ending – the final unknown in this compelling, carefully crafted literary equation that brooks no arguments.“

Petr Nagy, Kniha měsíce, Literární noviny

 

“Even if we do not speak about it, the past does not go away, and one of these days it will catch up with us, or if not us then our offspring. In Alena Mornštajnová's latest novel Years of Silence, one such event actually wields an influence on two generations.  (…)

In literary terms, Alena Mornštajnová is clearly still maturing, even though it looked like she had entered the literary world with her first book as a fully mature and self-confident individual, but her potential is even greater. (…)

The language in Alena Mornštajnová's novels is noteworthy: well-rounded, serene and polished. In contemporary literature it is something of an exception for the author to be so concerned over language. Nowadays the reader is more likely to demand a good story, and that is what sells, which is fine so long as such a good story manages to get into high-quality wrapping.“

Jiří Lojín, Vaše literatura

 

Years of Silence is a novel about a lot of misunderstandings, losses, self-seeking, bad decisions, expectations, mistaken assumptions, communication and the lack of it. Although words can hurt, silence can do that just as well too. If we are not going to communicate things, we can live with someone while not knowing them at all. There is a big difference between assuming and knowing. Both of the chief protagonists, Bohdana and Svatopluk, are elaborated in great detail.“

Jedu v knize - blog

 

“The guiding principles behind Years of Silence are emotive charge, subtle psychological miniaturism and elaborate composition.“

Tomáš Sedláček, Český rozhlas

 

“Czech literature can boast a great novelist.”

Zbyněk Černík, translator, Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll

 

“Again another high-quality achievement by perhaps the greatest contemporary Czech author. A highly intense family story, under the influence of an inscrutable game of fate."

Simona Fischerová, Bohemist, Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll

 

“An outstanding craftsmanlike Czech novel, without a trace of that fierce struggle between the author and her own words. At another level it is one of the most intelligent fictional summaries of the incomprehensible Czech 20th century.”

David Klimeš, journalist, Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll

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