Irena Dousková
Onegin Was a Rusky

translated by Melvyn Clarke

cover art by Lucie Lomová
cover and book design by Bedřich Vémola

published in May 2018

280 pp, paperback
ISBN 978-80-906428-8-1

Summary

Like B. Proudew, this work is an idiosyncratic autobiography woven into a collective memory of 1980s ‘timelessness’, to quote Václav Havel.

In spite of the vetting obstacles placed in her way by the authorities, Helena Součková has succeeded in getting to grammar school. And although the cards fate deals her are difficult to play, she battles gamely to reach an understanding of her inner world and the world of hypocrisy around her.

This coming-of- age novel gradually pieces together a mosaic of the era of deep normalization under President Husák, when most citizens of Communist Czechoslovakia did not even dare to think that the downfall of the system was within reach. Its atmosphere of all-pervading absurdity, apathy and bleakness stands in strong contrast to the author’s resourceful humour, which turns out to be one way to deal with a regime and an age of obtusity, indeed obtusity in general. The larger themes of the novel include human liberty, personal responsibility for one’s own behaviour and the quest for moral boundaries, both with regard to the family and the political set-up: totally timeless topics.

More about the book

One of the most popular Czech prose works to be written since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Irena Dousková’s loose trilogy carries on from B. Proudew with Onegin Was a Rusky, set when the false dawn of perestroika was at its falsest.

Although the place, time and narrative perspective of a primary school pupil has given way to the standpoint of a grammar school student facing her final exams, the focus in Onegin Was a Rusky is still that of a stylized diary confession.

A series of tragi-burlesque events is threaded over a timeframe of around twelve months, this time in the mid-1980s, to reveal the fortunes of a family trying to retain at least a little normality within the confines of ‘normalized’ harassment.

This is not easy to do when time almost stands still, and Prague is “dirty, grey and all dug-up, with all kinds of scaffolding and cordons around”, while those who dwell there “humiliate you, insult you, put you down…” and basically “make life as nasty as possible for each other”. Helena Součková, the same central character as in B. Proudew, is thus placed in a quandary: How is a seventeen-year- old girl to come to terms with her body and soul, when her alcoholic mother is always throwing tantrums, her émigré father shows no interest, and various monstrous screwed-up characters at school persecute her in the name of agitprop ideology? The gloom can sometimes be combatted with the help of a little poetry, some bright-spark schoolkid pranks and above all humour, because “what was left but to make fun of it all?”
(Radim Kopáč, Právo)

About the author

Irena Dousková
photo Filip Habart

Irena Dousková was born in 1964 in Příbram. She graduated from the Faculty of Law at Charles University, but never entered the legal profession. She has worked for the most part as a journalist, as well as a librarian and a dramaturge at a cultural centre. Since 2006 she has made a living from writing books, dramas and filmscripts. She lives in Prague.

Her loose trilogy following the life of Helena Součková—B. Proudew, Onegin Was a Rusky and 
Mr Knock-out—has enjoyed the greatest popularity. All three books have been adapted for stage by the author. For her starring role in B. Proudew, which has now seen more than seven hundred performances, Barbora Hrzánová has been awarded the highest Czech drama prize—the Thalie Award.

In the Czech Republic alone more than 100,000 copies of books by Irena Dousková have been sold, and they have been published in over ten languages.

Bibliography

Pražský zázrak – A Prague Miracle (co-author, 1992)
Goldstein píše dceři – Goldstein Writes to His Daughter (1997, 2006)
Hrdý Budžes – B. Proudew (1998, 2002)
Někdo s nožem – Someone with a Knife (2000)
Doktor Kott přemítá – Doctor Kott Wonders (2002)
Čím se liší tato noc – What Makes This Night Different (2004)
Oněgin byl Rusák – Onegin Was a Rusky (2006)
O bílých slonech – White Elephants (2008)
Bez Karkulky – Without the Riding Hood (2009)
Darda – Mr Knock-out (2011)
Medvědí tanec – Bear Dance (2014)
Napůl ve vzduchu – Half in the Air (2016)
Rakvičky – Éclairs (2018)

About the translator

Born in 1956, Melvyn Clarke is a graduate of the School of Slavonic and East European fStudies in London, where he studied Czech and Slovak language, literature and history. Since 1990 he has mostly lived in and around Prague. Recent published translations into English have included: On Description, a work on narratology edited by Alice Jedličková, Czech Literary Studies and the Institute of Czech Literature by Kateřina Piorecká and Pavel Janáček, Christmas in Bohemia by Kamila Skopová, The House Beyond the Mist by Ester Stará and B. Proudew and Onegin Was a Rusky by Irena Dousková. Since 1999 he has moderated Czechlist, a very active online translators’ discussion forum, and he currently teaches Czech-English translation at the Belisha Beacon School in Prague.

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