Original title: Skutečná cesta ven
Magnesia Litera Award in the DILIA Debut of the Year category 2022, shortlisted for Czech Book Award 2022
The dramatic experience of a Roma community in the Prague quarter of Žižkov in the 1990s, and difficulties in leaving stereotypes and prejudice behind.
The Real Way Out tells the true story of journalist Patrik Banga, who describes his rise from a life of deprivation in a Roma community to his leading status in the Czech media. The narrative begins in the 1990s in Žižkov, Prague (far from the ambitious quarter of today), showing a place riddled with despondency, drugs, alcohol, prostitution and street-fighting, where growing up within the local Roma community is a guarantee of one thing only – a life of more of the same.
In raw, remorseless fashion, Banga describes the teenage years of a Roma boy who from an early age knows only rejection, criminalization, racism and police brutality. His search for a real way out is strewn with obstacles and losses, but his belief that everyone is an individual remains unshakeable. This autobiographical work describes successes and failures, clashes with Roma culture, and a persistent refusal to be pigeonholed.
"Banga is unsparing in his highly convincing presentation of both the majority society and the Roma community. Of no less importance is this work’s status as a unique chronicle of the life of the Roma community in 1990s Žižkov."
Petra Dvořáková, writer
" ‘Showing that a Romany is not just a jailbird gyppo or a benefit scrounger.’ This is the final message from the autobiographical outpourings of this journalist, musician, presenter and IT entrepreneur.
His cradle being Žižkov in 1982 Prague, his fate being individual non-conformism and the ‘curse of presumed genius’, he could barely put up with the idea of integration, which has ironically dogged him down to this day. How does a sense of justice and indisputable artistic talent deal with the repeated experience of exclusion, ostentatious disinterest and greed, or direct discrimination and police bullying?
The author has no illusions about himself or those around him — he bears the consequences for his outspokenness, fearlessness and bravado, because this is his way out of social segregation and the ghetto of racial predeterminism.
Although in terms of its motifs the text breaks up in its last quarter, the Balkan episode seems to represent the final authorial insight and acceptance of his own identity."
Magnesia Litera panel statement
"I found reading his book to be quite an unnerving experience, which is nevertheless enhanced by a matter-of-fact, journalistic style that does not wring emotions out of the readers at all costs.
In any case, this publication will not leave readers indifferent but will give them much pause for reflection. For example, whether the minority Roma community should really merge into our majority community or retain its authenticity.
I appreciate the author’s ability to break free from cultural predeterminism and not to succumb to the pernicious sentiments of a one-sided view in this distinctively spontaneous text. (…) In any case, these days as we become increasingly aware of the deepening cultural, social, economic and ideological divide in our “malicious society”, his book The Real Way Out is of interest and benefit."
Josef Prokeš, Tvar
"This is a life story told in a detailed, direct and open manner."
Ilja Kučera, Právo
"The Real Way Out is extremely inspiring and filled with emotion. Literature like that cannot easily be forgotten."
Ján Blažovský, Medziknihami.sk
"Like Fečová, Banga is an engaging storyteller, but rather than just to educate, he wants to entertain and perhaps even shock. His flair for pithiness and wit cannot conceal his journalistic experience, while his grittier vocabulary cannot conceal his life as a bon viveur who had to give up due to serious illness. (…)
What both books (reviewed books by Patrik Banga and Olga Fečová: translator's note) have in common is their distinctive, vivid insight into the life of the largest domestic national minority, featuring stories of proud, resourceful Roma that are well worth reading."
Kateřina Čopjaková, Respekt
"This is not a text about idylls and enlightened gorgios. Banga’s journey is more reminiscent of black American rappers who managed to get out of their ghetto hell. In this book he spares neither the Roma authorities nor himself."
Jakub Šofar, Salon, Právo
"There is a powerful account of a young Roma, in which the narrator first deals with the surrounding reality and then gradually gets into the complex social ties.
(…) This book has the potential to move forward the domestic discussion about the coexistence of Roma and Czechs, thanks to its reporting style, which makes it an important probe into the efforts to integrate Roma in the 1990s. Moreover, this is a sore spot for Czech majority society due to its patronizing behaviour towards minorities."
Olga Pavlova, A2
"It's a frustrating read, but even here you can find hope. (…) We need a lot more testimonies like this."
Jonáš Zbořil, Seznam Zprávy
"The Real Way Out is a dense narrative. (…) He (the author) tells us about his life in a very appealing, authentic way, interspersing the text with monochrome newsprint-style period photos. Patrik’s confession is honest, sometimes desperate, full of emotion and feeling, so that is perhaps another reason why he has a chance to reach out and touch his readers."
Alena Badinová, Klub knihomolů
"In a raw, unscrupulous style, he describes his essentially permanent struggle with the system, in which he managed to establish himself primarily through a combination of his own personal attributes (literacy, skill, musical talent and tenacity) and the interplay of coincidences (acquaintances in parliament, appearances on television...). Even so, although the book climaxes in an engagement at a Yugoslav refugee camp, the bitterness and frustration never go away; not only Czech society, but also greedy NGOs, the Romani community and humanitarian organizations fail to achieve the solidarity that he anticipated.
The Real Way Out does not play at being neutral and balanced; In it, Banga legitimately vents his anger at those who have wronged him, without giving them any real opportunity for atonement. Hence the text serves well as a kind of mirror, the dark conscience of post-1989 society. Racist murders, from which Czech society averted its gaze, mobs of Nazi skinheads who killed Roma and foreigners, while the legal order here perceived all this as disorderly conduct.
Hence the book’s strength lies mainly in the authenticity of its testimony to things that a middle-class white person might not even be able to imagine."
Filip Šimeček, LaCultura.cz
"Banga’s book is written in a clean, raw, honest way. Neither line nor letter rustles the paper here. It is a text that arose out of necessity. Text in motion, living literature. Patrik Banga is an obvious talent. (…) With Banga, literature is still above the documentary. Poetry is still above prose. So a double incentive for activity: Read what the Roma write. And if you see something wrong, you do something about it! That is the ‘real way out’."
Radim Kopáč, IDNES
"Here the readers, particularly those who have only ever caught a glimpse of Romani work, (…) will receive their portion of what we might perhaps describe with only a little exaggeration as the “Roma school of hard knocks”.(…) Banga’s book is like an angry cry full of rage, pain and helplessness, but also determination not to give in. (…)
Banga’s book won’t even fit in with the mainstream. Not only because this powerful and relentless account of a little gypsy punk’s journey from a dilapidated, smoke-filled flat in Žižkov through special schools and police stations to war-ravaged Yugoslavia and from there to the open-plan offices of the national media is simply a good, finely plotted story that will really grab you (…).
Beyond our borders there is the Canadian Roma Ronald Lee and Oksana Marafioti, a Russian-Armenian Roma living in the United States, who tell similar stories. As in the case of Patrik Banga, violence, drugs, broken relationships, racism, music and remnants of ancient traditions, as well as the search for less honourable life strategies, are never ends in themselves, as they neither wish to amaze nor to kill. They are an authentic statement of what it means to be Roma."
Alena Scheinostová, Host
"The really admirable way out to this book. Thirty-nine chapters excellently written, not whiny, often funny and without any self-important bragging; the word integration has finally lost its meaning."
Kristina Žantovská, Lidové noviny
"His story is reminiscent of self-made men on the road to the American dream. (…) In terms of content, The Real Way Out is rich and remarkable, just as the author's life story is rich and remarkable. (…) The book’s content is captivating and in many ways unusual within the context of contemporary Czech literature, which tends to avoid portraying the 1990s."
Kryštof Eder, Reflex
"Its main strength lies in its addressing of a long hushed-up topic from the darker side of 1990s Prague. Plus, it brings a Roma perspective to bear on how Czech intellectuals remember recent decades. Banga’s view of all this is a far cry from the “golden years that may never come again” kind of sentimentalization. Not least for its different perspective on this sainted period in our modern history and by showing us that our memories are not enough, this is an important read."
Jan Bělíček, Český rozhlas