‘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.