Historic events are often tragic but can form the setting for so many stories.
On 21 August 1968 the armies of the Warsaw Pact invaded their partner in the socialist bloc, Czechoslovakia. Thus ended the hopes of the Prague Spring, and then came ‘normalisation’ (Orwell would have been proud of that neologism), which put the Czechs and Slovaks back in their place behind the Iron Curtain for the two decades until 1989.
Two novels published this month focus on these terrible events. There will be several others!
Prague Spring is by Simon Mawer (author of the remarkable novel The Glass Room, reviewed on this blog at https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/the-glass-room-revisited/). Two English students, Ellie and James, are hitch-hiking in Europe and are in Czechoslovakia at the key time, while Sam Wareham, working at the British Embassy in Prague, much in the company of Czech student Lenka Konecková, is discovering the world of Czechoslovak youth. But the Russian tanks are assembling … (Published by Little, Brown; ISBN 9781408711156)
Broken Sea: A story of love and intolerance is by Nigel Peace. It’s a love story set against the background of 1968. 18-year-old Roy has met Czech student in Wales and falls in love, but she feels she must return home. Their love develops, but can it last? Lives are so changed by the events of 1968, and are too many things kept secret? (Published by Local Legend; ISBN 9781910027233)
At this date fifty years ago I was staying with a German family in Bielefeld in West Germany. I recall vividly their alarm at the news of the invasion: would the Russians stop at the Czechoslovak border or carry on into West Germany? Fortunately for my hosts they stopped.
If you’re interested in the politics of it all, there’s a 12-minute piece on Radio Prague about the negotiations between Dubček and Brezhnev in the period leading up to 21 August – go to https://www.radio.cz/en/section/czech-history/kieran-williams-a-week-before-the-invasion-dubcek-still-believed-he-had-time.