Arnost Lustig talks about his newly translated novel
The Prague International Writers's Festival is in full swing. On Wednesday there was a chance to meet and talk to one of the most important living Czech writers, Arnost Lustig, who lives in Washington. His writing career spans fifty years, and his work returns again and again to the Second World War, when Lustig himself survived the Terezin Ghetto and then Auschwitz. The war is also the stage for his latest novel to be translated into English, "Krasne zelene oci" - "Lovely Green Eyes". David Vaughan went down to the Globe Bookstore to meet Arnost Lustig and find out more about the book.
Amid the literary bustle of Prague's international café bookstore, Arnost Lustig told me what he felt to be the essence of the story:
"It's a love story, with some beauty, which every love carries. It's the beauty of love, which really redeems people, and I hate to speak like a Rabbi, because I am only a writer, but I am moved by the story and I hope that the reader will be moved too."
The book is the tale of a young Jewish girl, who survives the war by becoming a field whore for German soldiers on the eastern front. After the war she returns to Prague, and despite all she has been through, she falls in love. The crux of the novel comes at the point when she tells the man she loves about her past.
"And she tells him - look, this is what I had to do during the war, and if you love me you have a choice. You can say goodbye and I will understand it. But I would like to tell you one thing. When I was a small girl, my mother told me that every girl has in her body, a special chamber which is designed for love only, and no-one can penetrate it, only the one who really loves you and has strength to get into you."
"Lovely Green Eyes" is translated by Arnost Lustig's contemporary, Ewald Osers, who was also at the Globe on Wednesday. He has no doubt that Lustig's novel is a masterpiece:
"It describes people shivering in the latrines, people being sent to unpick the clothes of exterminated Jews, to make sure there are no bits of jewelry sewn into the lining, and so on. And I think he has the knack of conveying a sense of the great tragedy by focusing on the small horrors of the situation."
Arnost Lustig's novel, "Lovely Green Eyes" will be published in Britain later this year, and parts have already appeared in the United States in the "New England Review".