A young boy from the housing estates comes across a copse of old oaks to which he can escape, as to an oasis of calm. Although he may forget about it once he becomes an adult and “puts aside the things of childhood,” it will remain a locus of balance, decades later, for a single mother struggling with the difficulties of raising the child she loves. A husband, on the lip of an ugly divorce, drives across town in the middle of the night to rescue his wife, abandoned by her lover, and then — as she falls asleep in the car — takes the long way home, to prolong a moment such as he has not experienced in years. An elderly doctor, self-diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, makes use of the few precious moments of consciousness granted him each morning to pass on to his grandson what he has learned about life and living responsibly. Loss and permanence, the ephemeral and the eternal, are common themes of Jan Balabán’s collection of short stories Maybe We’re Leaving, presented here in the English translation of Charles S. Kraszewski. With psychological insight that rivals the great novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, the twenty-one linked narratives that make up the collection present us with everyday people, with everyday problems — and teach us to love and respect the former, and bear the latter.
Translation of this book was supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
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Jan Balabán was born in Šumperk, a town near the city of Olomouc in what was at the time Czechoslovakia, on 29 January 1961. He was raised in the city of Ostrava, which lies some 92 kilometres southwest of his birthplace. It is this city that forms the backdrop for most of his fiction.
He entered the University of Olomouc in the 1980s, where he studied Czech and English. Upon graduation, he began work as a technical translator in Ostrava. Up until the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism in 1989, his works were clandestinely published; like his brother the painter Daniel Balabán and so many other artists of his generation, he was a dissident.
Before his sudden and untimely death on 23 April 2010, he had published several books, mostly collections of short stories, in the now unfettered press of the free Czech Republic. These are: Středověk (Middle Age, 1995) Boží lano (The Rope of God, 1998), Prázdniny (Holidays, 1998), Možná, že odcházíme (Maybe We’re Leaving, 2004), and Jsme tady (Here We Are, 2006). He also published two novels, Černý beran (The Black Ram, 2000) and Kudy šel anděl (Where Was the Angel Going?, 2003), a screenplay Srdce draka (The Heart of a Dragon, 2001) and a stageplay entitled Bezruč?! (No Hands?!, 2009) in collaboration with Ivan Motýl. Zeptej se táty (Ask Dad), the manuscript of a novel that he was working on at his death, was posthumously published in 2010.
Endorsements and Review Quotes
An interview on Jan Balabán, one of the best Czech writers of the post-1989 period, on Radio Prague
“Jan Balabán died suddenly, in his sleep, on April 23, 2010. Ten years later, he remains highly respected among Czech critics. For foreign readers, he might represent an attractive mixture of the familiar and exotic. Influenced by both American and Russian literature, his stories will delight the fans of Raymond Carver, John Updike, and Ivan Bunin, while being firmly rooted in Central Europe.” Jan Zikmund, B O D Y
“Maybe We’re Leaving speaks to the modern era as Balabán masterfully crafted pessimistic stories that illustrate the emptiness of the characters’ lives in a dismal, dysfunctional society. The author’s artistry and perceptiveness have earned him critical acclaim. Maybe We’re Leaving was dubbed Book of the Year in 2004 by a survey in the daily Lidové noviny and was nominated for the National Prize in Literature that same year. The existential work captured a Magnesia Litera Award for prose during 2005. The awards for Maybe We’re Leaving are not the only recognition for Balabán’s work. In 2010, readers of Lidové noviny designated his Ask Your Father Book of the Year. Balabán posthumously won the 2011 Book of the Year Magnesia Litera prize for that prose. A further mark of the high esteem for Balabán’s work is that the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Culture supported this translation of Maybe We’re Leaving into English.” Tracy A. Burns, KOSMAS
“Jan Balabán is one of the Czech Republic’s foremost writers of the last half-century, but is hardly known in the UK; very little of his output – three novels (one graphic), a play, a novella and five volumes of short stories – having been translated into English. He died suddenly in 2010 aged forty-nine, so this collection of short stories will hopefully help build his reputation in this country.” Max Easterman, RivetingReviews
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