Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968

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Heda Margolius Kovaly's steady gaze at the lives caught up in Czechoslovakia's tragic fate under the Nazis and then during the Stalin era illuminates the chaotic life of a nation. Kovaly was deported to concentration camps, escaped from a death march, nearly starved in the postwar years, only to be shattered by her husband's conviction (in the infamous 1952 Slansky trial) and his execution. Resonant with lyricism, this gripping memoir is uplifting even in the midst of horror.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A Jew in Czechoslovakia under the Nazis, Kovaly spent the war years in the Lodz ghetto and several concentration camps, losing her family and barely surviving herself. Returning to Prague at the end of the war, she married an old friend, a bright, enthusiastic young Jewish economist named Rudolf Margolius, who saw the country's only hope for the future in the Communist Party. Thereafter, Rudolf became deputy minister for foreign trade. For a time, the Margoliuses lived like royalty, albeit reluctantly, but then, in a replay of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Rudolf and others, mostly of Jewish background, were arrested and hung in the infamous Slansky Trial of 1952. Kovaly's memoir of these years that end with her emigration to the West after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 are a tragic story told with aplomb, humor and tenderness. The reader alternately laughs and cries as Kovaly describes her mother being sent to death by Dr. Mengele, Czech Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald drunk at a reception, the last sight of her husband, the feverish happiness of the Prague Spring. Highly recommended. (November)
Library Journal
An exceptionally intimate and poignant memoir by a Czechoslovakian exile. Kovaly, a Jew, was forcibly deported to a Nazi labor camp in the early days of German occupation. A spirited woman, she not only survived the camp but returned to Prague to wed her childhood sweetheart, Rudolf Margolius. Though their fortunes rose in the postwar era, Rudolf eventually lost his life in the Stalinist purges of the early Fifties, leaving Heda to face life as a nonperson. Kovaly's recollections of her life during the purges form the core of the book and convey with brutal clarity the magnitude of suffering inflicted on thousands of Czechs. Her brief impressions of the famous ``Prague Spring'' of 1968 are also illuminating. Recommended for libraries with large Eastern European collections. Joseph W. Constance, Jr., Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780841913776
  • Publisher: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 174,176
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Prague, Heda Margolius Kovaly was in concentration camps during the Second World War, escaped from a death march, and took part in the Prague uprising against the Germans in May 1945. After the war, she worked at various Czechoslovak publishing houses. In 1952, her husband, Rudolf Margolius, was convicted in the Stalinist Slansky show trials. She has translated some two dozen books and written one novel, Innocence. The Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia drove her into exile in 1968. After living in Massachusetts and working at the Harvard Law School Library for several years, she returned to Prague where she now lives.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 19, 2011

    One of the best books I've read about surviving WWII and its aftermath

    This is an excellently written, fascinating, factual story of a Jewish Czech woman who survives a Nazi labor camp by escaping. It details the difficulty of hiding in Prague until the end of the war, as well as surviving the Communist era which was in many ways just as difficult. You feel like you know the author and are living her experiences with her. It is an unsentimental but vivid account of one life, but represents the experiences of many. Highly recommended. Read the comments written about the book by the critics (all are superlative) and the author's obituary in the NYTimes for an idea of how important this book is!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2004

    One of the very best

    This is one of the best books about these periods -- WW2, the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia -- that I have ever read. With such skill, passion, and moral clarity that your heart races on every page, the authoress describes (among other things) the unbearably ugly things people reveal about themselves in extreme circumstances without forcing any unrealistic happy or peaceful resolutions. And yet, filled as it is with the harshest realities, the book is on fire with her unbelievably strong and loving life spirit. Read it and know how important it is for people to fight for true democracy and not be taken in by demagogues. Yes, this means us in the USA.

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    Posted January 24, 2011

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