Czechs today need cosmopolitan model, says author of novel exploring J. A. Baťa’s exile in Brazil

Markéta Pilátová, photo: Jiří Sobota, ČRo

A freshly published Czech novel reimagines episodes from the life of Jan Antonín Baťa, a Moravian business tycoon who built four cities in Brazil after being forced to flee from his native country. Markéta Pilátová’s book is based on an extensive family archive – and grew in part out of a friendship with the magnate’s granddaughter.

With Baťa in the Jungle,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
The new novel S Baťou v džungli, With Baťa in the Jungle, explores the life in exile of Czech industrialist Jan Antonín Baťa. He fled the Nazis in 1939 and ended up living in Brazil, where he built four new cities and brought thousands of settlers from Czechoslovakia and other European states.

The book is the latest work from the respected novelist Markéta Pilátová, who is herself partly based in Brazil. Indeed she is the Czech teacher of Baťa’s granddaughter, Dolores Bata Arambasic. The latter explains how she gave the writer access to her grandfather’s extensive archive.

“When she got interested in looking at it, I said, Markéta, all this is for you. So she had the possibility to study all of that. When she started to write the book she would read to me. If it was correct, I would go, OK. Sometimes if it wasn’t, I would say, Actually, it was like this. So it’s kind of a work that we made together, let’s say.”

Parts of With Baťa in the Jungle are narrated by a fictionalised Jan Antonín Baťa, who recounts some of the twists and turns in his fascinating life story.

Markéta Pilátová,  photo: Jiří Sobota,  ČRo
Author Markéta Pilátová outlines his attraction as a subject.

“Jan Antonín Baťa was for me a big hero. Because he was a very cosmopolitan man. I think Czech people need examples of cosmopolitanism and a global outlook. Especially at this time, given the sentiments of nationalism, xenophobia and such things around us.”

Dolores Bata Arambasic says it is very gratifying to her that a contemporary Czech novelist has taken on her grandfather’s story.

“All the destruction the Communists did… In this way, I can show to the Czech people something they have the right to know: the truth. When my grandfather died, the last words he wrote were that the truth would come to the top of the water, like oil. I was 18 then and it’s something that was in my mind all the time. I promised myself to do all the efforts that I could to do this, to work on this.”