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Where Was the Angel Going?


Author: Jan Balaban

Translated by Charles S. Kraszewski

Introduction: Charles S. Kraszewski

‘Somewhere in the cosmos there are happier places,’ muses Martin Vrána, the hero of Jan Balabán’s novel Where was the Angel Going?. ‘People are transported to the planet Earth for punishment. Part of the punishment is their ignorance of the fact…

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“Somewhere in the cosmos there are happier places,” muses Martin Vrána, the hero of Jan Balabán’s novel Where was the Angel Going?. “People are transported to the planet Earth for punishment. Part of the punishment is their ignorance of the fact. We’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten.” Yet, as this very reflection implies, in Martin’s case, part of his “punishment” is his ever-present memory of an Eden from which he had been expelled. The prototypical outsider, a member of a minority community within a minority community (a Protestant in the overwhelmingly agnostic Czech Republic), Martin, like the survivor of a shipwreck, strives to shore up his vital resources amidst the billows of an inimical world, which constantly advance and threaten to wash away everything he holds dear.

Where was the Angel Going? is a novel made up of forty-six linked stories. As always, Balabán’s prose is so vivid that the reader can practically taste the “honey and dust,” which are the characteristic flavours of Ostrava. And yet, in its lyrical message of love and friendship as basic human needs no less critical than air and water, Where was the Angel Going? is nonetheless an eminently universal novel. Everyone will find him or herself in these pages, as we are all of us descended from that first pair of exiles, Adam and Eve.

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 Age1995) 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.


Charles S. Kraszewski (b. 1962) is a poet and translator, writing in both English and Polish. He is the author of three volumes of verse in English: Beast, Diet of Nails, Chanameed, and one in Polish, Hallo Sztokholm. He translates from Polish, Czech, and Slovak. Among his many translations published by Glagoslav may be found Jan Balabán’s Maybe We’re Leaving. He is a member of the Union of Polish Writers Abroad (London) and of the Association of Polish Writers (Kraków).

Endorsements and Review Quotes

An interview on Jan Balabán, one of the best Czech writers of the post-1989 period, on Radio Prague

“Generally, reading novels set in Eastern Europe during the Soviet era can be quite depressing, as things are usually grim. Yes, there are certainly some Czech novels (and films) which make fun of the situation. This is not one of those.” The Modern Novel


Jan Balaban


202 pages

Publication date

25th November 2020

Book Format

Hardcover, Paperback, EPUB, Kindle, PDF

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