Original title: Bílá Voda
Rights sold to:
Poland (Afera), Hungary (Kalligram)
A long anticipated, ground-breaking novel about women, about faith and about evil
Bílá Voda, limpid white water. This is the poetic name of a forsaken village hidden in the shadow of bordering mountains, to which droves of pilgrims once would journey to entreat the miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary for help. It is to this very place, several centuries later, that Lena Lagnerová arrives, seeking a refuge from her own past, which has brought her to the brink of suicide. Instead of a monastery with a large religious community, however, all she finds are a few nuns, led by the idiosyncratic Sister Evarista. Evarista came to Bílá Voda on the last night of September in 1950, when the communist regime, personified in the demonic Father Plojhar, as part of “Operation Ř,” as in “řeholnice,” the Czech word for nuns, carted off all holy sisters to detention convents. Back then the very young Evarista was given a choice: return to civilian life or share the future fate of the others. She did not hesitate for even an instant. Like all the other nuns, she was assigned to forced labor and subjected to humiliation in a communist prison, even torture, to force her to renounce her faith in God. All in vain. But Lena discovers that this is just the beginning of Evarista’s dramatic story, and soon realizes that the demons haunting the past of the Bílá Voda nuns have not disappeared, and what’s more, play a role in her own destiny.
Evarista’s story, along with the fates of the other nuns, are based on real events, which Kateřina Tučková spent many years researching in archives and from among witnesses. In addition to the riveting narrative, Tučková’s novel critically considers the status of women in the Catholic Church, and at the same time, on a symbolic level, the unequal status of women in society as a whole.
"Bílá Voda (limpid white water) is a book that has long been anticipated – and that is going to be talked about for at least as long. Perhaps for even longer than such previous hits of hers as Gerta / Vyhnání Gerty Schnirch, The Last Goddess / Žítkovské bohyně and Vitka / Vitka.
The more the reader gets into the novel the clearer it becomes just how exceptional the author’s style is and what an intensive and natural story-teller she has found herself to be. How efficiently she draws characters and situations, how skillfully she combines elements of the detective, mystery, horror (almost), spiritual, lyrical and sometimes a bit of the grotesque -- instantly conjuring up an atmosphere so gripping and dense that you could cut it with a knife.
This makes it all the more obvious what the author ultimately wants to say in the text. We might quote Evarista: “Ruthlessness and coercion are not to be yielded to.” We could highlight the importance of the deep-seated bonds between mother and child, and between humans and a principle that transcends them. Or we could highlight the appeal for women’s emancipation. In any case, one thing is for sure: Tučková has written a great novel. And most certainly not just because it’s almost 700 pages long."
Radim Kopáč, MF Dnes
"Book of the week and perhaps of the year: Bílá Voda.
Kateřina Tučková has written a great novel about faith, totalitarianism and the emancipation of women.
(…) This [novel] is undoubtedly her greatest work to date and a serious contender for this year’s book of the year. (…)
Once again, she has chosen a topic with considerable social relevance, which at the same time arouses some controversy. In other respects too, her new novel is reminiscent of The Last Goddess -- from the ingeniously constructed mosaic composition to the imaginative use of various documents and the choice of the chief protagonist and the determination of her role in the story. To this should be added the author’s refined style, which has developed further over the past decade. (…)
Readers of Bílá Voda have no choice but to bow to the depth and breadth of the writer’s research, as well as to her ability to build an eminently readable and suspenseful novel (with a few surprising twists before the end of the narrative) on a more or less realistic basis. Numerous historical crimes and human tragedies are given space there, yet there is also room for forgiveness, love and hope. (…)
If this year’s Magnesia Litera Awards lacked a work of fiction worthy of the title of Book of the Year, next year’s nomination might just be Kateřina Tučková’s Bílá Voda -- in a word, a great novel that makes successful use of archive documents and fictional devices, and that unforcedly links a historical topic with the contemporary debate over women’s emancipation."
Petr Nagy, Deník N
"As in the case of The Last Goddess and Gerta, in Bílá Voda the author first made a detailed study of a little-known piece of history, which had been forcefully imprinted on a particular location in our country, in order to transform it into a story that emerges out of it, rooted in facts but swelling as it involves the lives of the fictional characters.
Bílá Voda could have ended up as an “ordinary” dramatic depiction of the Communists’ forty-year-long efforts to get rid of inconvenient religious believers, as a description of the solution to the religious question in those days. But Kateřina Tučková has added something else -- something much more important, because it is more contemporary: the struggle of Catholic women for their emancipation and independence. This is not her invention; the Gospel of Mary and St. Vilemina are already well-known. And there are known cases of women being ordained as Catholic priests, albeit never with the blessing of a higher ecclesiastical authority. What at first seems to be a depiction of struggle and hardship, of prison oppression, of dying and despair, thus turns in the second part of Bílá Voda into a great lifting of the head, a sigh, an elevation and a manifestation of the nuns’ feminine self-confidence.
Kateřina Tučková is not an artist torn by inner conflict, who waits for inspiration and then writes in a frenzy, but a conscientious and punctilious researcher who composes her novels so as to say the maximum about the topic in question. She quarries it, digs it out and brings it into the light of day -- thus releasing it from its muteness once and for all.
Via the history of forced internment and imprisonment, Kateřina Tučková has arrived at a topic which need not just be remembered as a tragic historical period, but which nowadays can also be opened up for discussion. Even for those outside the Catholic community."
Klára Kubíčková, Vlasta
"By all comparative criteria, Tučková’s prose work stands out. Out beyond everything that has been produced here in the Czech Republic. (...) Kateřina Tučková has gone against the tide, for which she deserves great admiration. She has broached a subject that was completely unknown to me, i.e. that of nuns, and within the context of the hard times under Communism she has created a tribute not only to them, but above all to the power of faith in God, which all makes literary sense.
It’s always the final product that matters most. This one is fantastic and I cannot fault it. The fictional passages and the narrative backbone are sharply contrasted by the author with the extremely difficult realities and a documentary interpretation of the times. She has flawlessly rounded off the characters’ fates, found her bearings among the difficult positions of women and the church, and she has not made any mistakes. Bílá Voda will outlive us, and I could not praise it more. This is a novel you will have to read."
Zdeněk Svoboda, Krajské listy
"The author has presented us with a plot that branches out broadly from medieval motifs to the present day, and is deeply affecting in its rebellious conclusion. At first glance these are stories of women decimated not only by the deadly oppression of the regime, but also by the world order represented by the dictatorship of the family and male terror, underpinned by an ingrained prejudiced conception of human relationships. Tučková has placed this revolt among the interned nuns, who are supposed to be humble and reconciled to the position that God has allotted them. The chief protagonist, a rigorous and courageous priestess and some of her companions take this up, while alongside them and with them are several men. After some shattering extreme experiences, they are all driven to seek the healing they find in a personal experience of faith.
They become part of a secret church and seek to return to Jesus, who was in fellowship with the outcasts of society. His legacy was reworked by the episcopal editors of the Gospels into a construction based on the principle of absolute obedience. They associated it with power and granted themselves the right to punish, exclude and exterminate truth-seekers. The revolutionary attitude of the underground followers of the new theology was thus rejected by the Catholic hierarchy in the spirit of its dogmas.
The resistance which these misfits, rescued by the vigorous Bílá Voda Monastery community, have resorted to after their fall from grace, transcends the limits of religious conflict. It has a social goal: a life of dignity and freedom. This portrayal is an extraordinary work both in the Czech context and beyond."
Milan Uhde, Lidové noviny
"Bílá Voda is a work that is worthy of respect, even though we may balk at a lot in it. Kateřina Tučková is not afraid of grand authorial gestures or going the full distance. Her books are worth the debate they stir up. This sets her apart from the plethora of popular women writers who have appeared on the Czech scene this century in no small measure thanks to the Host publishing house, as her voice is quite unmistakable..."
Josef Chuchma, Respekt
"[The story] will probably most often be read as a revolt against the oppression of women in the Catholic Church, and as an upsurge of women’s liberation, associated not only with the exceptional situation involving the oppression of the Church under the Communist regime, but with the undervaluing of women in general. (…)
Bílá Voda will certainly not open up the church debate over the ordination of women. Literature does not have that kind of power these days; its “heresy” does not interest anyone much anymore. However, it can transmit the essence of the spiritual force that permeates female experience, not only as constructed gender, but also as biology with its mystery of the birth of life, which plays an important role in Bílá Voda. The Mother who transforms the Father. For this spiritual power and the shattering of the stale certainties behind dogmatics of all kinds, it makes sense to literarily go back to a lost time."
Petr Fischer, Lidové noviny, Orientace
"The game in play with Bílá Voda readers is a thrilling one. Tučková uses her tried-and-tested devices, such as letters, diary entries and various reports, which we read together with Lena (one of the book’s characters), and it is only by doing so that we learn more. Otherwise, even as far as Lena’s past is concerned, the author only drops hints, while shifting the focus elsewhere, as she’ll come back to all that later, which really works and makes you think and often compare your own views.
At the same time, the book very easily holds the readers’attention throughout its almost 700 pages, not allowing them to switch to autopilot or check out how many pages are left. Some plot lines are rounded off, while others are left open, so it’s up to us to work them out... Yet it is also about things as elusive as faith, so this situation may well be facilitated by that which is illogical and inexplicable.
Bílá Voda combines everything that Kateřina Tučková has already used to great effect in The Last Goddess -- strong heroines (and heroes in this case) and the theme of persecution and prefigurations in real historical events and characters. (…)
This book is a novel. And well written. One that forces the reader to keep digging, which is of great benefit, because it can draw attention to a topic that might have been neglected as of marginal interest. (…)
Certainly, as we delve deeper into the story, Bílá Voda can at times be slightly reminiscent of Dan Brown’s books; some elements may at first glance seem like wild, far-fetched conspiracies. (...) There is a certain mystique that is subtle but all-pervading. When we finish reading we are made to think, which is, I think, the mark of a good novel. As well as the message that there are different paths that lead safely to the destination."
Mirka Kundratová, Lidové noviny
"For ten long years, Kateřina Tučková, author of the bestseller The Last Goddess, worked on this novel, which is partly fictional and partly shockingly true, and it shows in the perfect literary strength of the narrative. The book cannot be read in one go, and at times you have to put it down and mull over the story, which deeply moves the reader as the individual personal tragedies and the partial victories come together."
Zuzana Dorogiová, Knihkupec
"An extensive novel full of guilt and consolation, this is the most ambitious project yet by a forty-one-year-old writer who knows how to sculpt bestsellers out of modern history. In them, she gives voice to women pushed to the margins, whose stories continue to be an inspiration to this day. This time, however, the author is aiming for more: to build a solid argument for the emancipation of women in the Catholic Church on the basis of the unjustly neglected suffering of the nuns. A difficult task for literature.
Tučková could easily have written a narrative that primarily drew on the suffering of the nuns and the exoticism of a remote region; instead, she opted for a rather wild dance between Umberto Eco and Dan Brown and made history a projection screen for her feminist and Christian ideas.
Regardless of the meanders along the way, historical sources and tributaries have eventually flowed together into the river of the novel-legend. In the words of Evarista, “What does not exist and should, must be made way for.”
And that is exactly what Tučková has stood up for: to be of assistance as a writer in handing over the power of the keys to the other half of humanity, to revive faith and to give hope where it languishes."
Kateřina Čopjaková, Právo, Salon
"Tučková creates a geological cross-section of place, people and time in which the power of conviction and faith is made present again in the multifaceted story of the lost, tormented girl Lena and the many layers of semi-fictional documents, official documentation and diary entries. (…) There is plenty of time to consider the battle of dogmas, the Communist kind being not the only one that is restrictive and limiting.
This time it’s a hit for those who give themselves over to the text in a more heartfelt manner. Transcending themselves, yet not losing their closeness and humility and maintaining their defiance of a system that overlooked individuality, the women priests and their “creative disobedience” serve as inspiration for those times when help is needed without hierarchy and authorities.
Historical novels sometimes see further into the future than initial appearances might suggest..."
Petr Fischer, Český rozhlas