Original title: Listopád
Czech Book Award 2022
Macedonian (Muza, 2022, Igor Stanojoski), German (Wieser Verlag, 2022, Raija Hauck)
Rights sold to:
Italy (Keller Editore), Poland (Amaltea), Slovenia (Celjska Mohorjeva Družba), Croatia (Hena Com), Bulgaria (Ergo), Sefsafa (Egypt)
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if the events of November 1989 had a different outcome?
How would Czechs live now if communism was ongoing, and they remained divided within and from the rest of the world by an iron curtain?
Alena Mornštajnová, one of Czechia’s leading contemporary novelists, returns with another surprise. Her latest work is the dramatic story of an ordinary family divided and brought to confrontation by the great events of one November night. We follow the path of Marie Hajná, as she is arrested and then sentenced to twenty years in prison for her part in the demonstrations. The likelihood that she will see her children grow to adulthood is slight, but she refuses to give up hope. And she has letters to keep her going.
The story of a young girl unfolds alongside Marie’s. Magdalena is taken from her parents and placed in a ‘sanatorium’ for the raising of communist cadres. One day, the two destinies intersect – with a result that contradicts the hopes and wishes of both individuals.
Alena Mornštajnová has written a stirring, spellbinding tale of what might have happened in her homeland but did not. What she describes is not so different from life in many places in today’s world.
"What is important is the atmosphere, and Mornštajnová handles its depiction excellently in the prison, the reformatory and society at large - November Fall is definitely not just playing around with alternative history.
The author has set her cruel and sometimes tear-jerkingly moving dystopia against a backdrop of “real socialism”, which has survived and is now taking on a perhaps even more distasteful form.
As the pages turn, the narrative gains in strength and urgency and you find yourself desperately hoping that November Fall will have a happy ending. But can anything end well in this hopeless world?"
Alena Slezáková, MF DNES
"Mornštajnová gently steps on the gas to let the reader enjoy the final sprint. She has set out the plot over three decades and two narrative lines (one in the third person and the other in the first), yet sails through with expertise and confidence. The reader does not lose the thread or the appetite for more narrative. (…) The whole holds together very well with a clear goal and direction."
Aleš Palán, Aktuálně.cz
"Alena Mornštajnová manages to describe this alternative reality in a fascinating way using minimal resources, and by focusing on just one family she draws the reader into the story at an emotional level. Alena Mornštajnová has revealed her gloomy vision at a time when we see our democracy and relative independence under threat. That is why I consider her very important, and in my view the book goes beyond its undeniable literary value.
After her very successful novel Hana, many doubted that Alena Mornštajnová would be able to get over the high bar that she had set for herself. After reading November Fall, I have to say she did so with incredible ease. As an experienced author, she does not make mistakes in planning out the text, the plot flows naturally, the dialogues are believable and nothing disturbs the message that the author conveys to the reader in this book.
I hope the book is a bestseller, and above all that readers see it as a warning."
Jiří Lojín, Vaše literatura
"November Fall is a combination of a melodramatically presented story in a dystopian mould about a family torn apart by dictatorship, which is clearly reminiscent of similar works by Margaret Atwood, for example, as well as a rather straightforward "extrapolation" of some well-known features of Communist totalitarianism, though without the geopolitical and civilizational changes at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries.
This novel comes onto the scene in a situation where a lot is at stake in these parts; particularly regarding whether we will remain a free democratic country integrated into Western structures.
(…) In the light of this context the “if” of this popular author’s novel has an extraliterary appellative potential. Hovering over her book is an awareness of the privileged position we find ourselves in as citizens, and the fact this is not to be taken for granted and that it need not always be that way. The spectre of discipline and unfreedom walks here, and it is of no great importance that it would probably use milder methods than those to which Marie, Magdalena and other characters in November Fall are subjected."
Josef Chuchma, Respekt
"The author’s dystopia is a kind of overall reflection upon manipulation, brainwashing and totalitarian methods in general, which are with us even today, although Mornštajnová’s Orwellian world set in the early third millennium is closer to the terror of the 1950s. Then there are the military coups, camps, re-education facilities, massacres and the mind control and surveillance that still exist in many countries, so again nothing implausible about that. Even that glimmer of hope is quite believable, as the yearning for freedom will never die out. Sure, Mornštajnová cannot resist the odd cliché quietly lurking in among the Mills & Boon books, but she knows how to weave a strong story. She is a kind of Czech Ferrante, and that potential could also be exploited well abroad."
Jana Machalická, Lidové noviny
"Since November 1989, few books have surely been so eagerly anticipated as Alena Mornštajnová's new novel. Not surprisingly. Her latest novel November Fall generally has all the qualities guaranteed to make it a bestseller, both at home and, no doubt, in a few years in translation.
A clear storyline infused with a dynamically developing plot. The author’s skilful, indeed ideal, dance between high literature and popular melodrama. With a woman or rather several types of women as chief protagonist, and a time-space backdrop that is more topical this time round, more palpable for the average user than the 1930s and 1960s in Hana (2017) or the history of almost the entire country in the Years of Silence (2019): the last three decades, i.e. the recent past, close to hand and indeed terrifyingly urgent. And why? Because in terms of genre, November Fall is a dystopia, a prose lesson in counterfactual history, a fictional study of “what if”.
What disturbs the reader most about this story from the outset is just how close it comes to reality. After all, the author ominously states in her prologue that “everything written here happened somewhere once and is still happening somewhere in the world.”
November Fall is not just a counterfactual dystopian novel but also a story about a broken-off, lost and refound relationship between parents and children, mother and daughter. A story of endless waiting, of a deep, seemingly unbridgeable rift in time and indeed space.
Mornštajnová has written a story that is lucid and concentrated: pure and clear. A story that ultimately has a strong appeal. And it does not only appeal for a natural bond between parent and child, for a safe family framework that anchors personal security, or rather breaks down insecurities, feelings of inferiority and guilt. It also appeals for what is essential: human freedom, the right to uniqueness and one’s own life in which the word naturally becomes an act. A powerful act."
Radim Kopáč, Lidové noviny
"Again Mornsteinová has not disappointed her fans, presenting them with a captivating and readable story that could take place - and does take place - in various forms all over the world even today. At its heart lies not only the eternal theme of freedom, but also a much more universal experience - you can put up with anything, but it’s always easier if you’re not on your own."
"Isn't November Fall more of a dystopia, i.e. a hyperbolized image of a catastrophe that does not necessarily match the actual options? More like something akin to Orwell (1984) or Zamyatin (We). These are also models created by their authors to present a warning vision to society. (…) Mornštajnová began bringing out her books at a time when literature - and not just Czech literature - was undergoing a reboot, a new start. It started not to matter which generation you belonged to and whether you subscribed to any ism etc. No one is into trendiness much these days. Modernism and postmodernism are over for good. We are going back to the beginning somewhere - to the need for a basic story that is credible, has a theme and thrust and is embedded in two prime “ecosystems”, the first one being family and family relations and the second one being history. And Mornštajnová knows how to do this. And people want to read it. This is the basis of success and not only for Mornštajnová."
Jiří Trávníček, Týdeník Echo (Book discussion)
"It was the author’s aim to evoke a powerful experience and I believe she did so persuasively. As I was reading I came over all anxious to the point of depression over the horror that she is able to vividly and persuasively convey. And I realized how rapidly we forget, how our imperfect, sometimes laughable freedom has become commonplace so awfully quickly, so we no longer think for even a moment that it could be any different. I believe this is one message of this book.
(…) Is Alena Mornštajnová not the Czech Elena Ferrante? (…) The entire world has fallen for Elena Ferrante… Not just ordinary readers but also Italianists, translators and theorists have been astonished by her ability to tell a story which plausibly incorporates Italy’s postwar history. And Mornštajnová manages this rather well too."
Jana Machalická, Týdeník Echo (Book discussion)
"A novelist can think up whatever they want. And I think that Mornštajnová is good at thinking things up. As a reader and a historian I appreciated her ability to vividly depict the establishment of a dictatorship, and I also appreciated the way she handled the transformation from euphoria to despair. I read it all with great interest.
(…) Mornštajnová does not deal with the complexity and contradictions of history, but with good and evil in humanity. She probably believes that these are existing categories and that a conflict takes place between them in the world."
Jiří Suk, Týdeník Echo (Book discussion)
"In all of Alena Mornštajnová's books, I have to acknowledge her great sensitivity (not hypersensitivity), the absence of pathos and her perfect storytelling. She has a unique gift for writing. (…) Nothing is missing from November Fall and nothing is in excess. It’s a wonderful novel. (…) November Fall is a major book and a future candidate for inclusion in compulsory school reading lists."
Zdeněk Svoboda, Krajské listy