Magdalena Platzova: "I don't like to torture people".

Magdalena Platzova

Today's Czech Books looks at Magdalena Platzova who has in her mid thirties published two books, poems and is author of three theatre plays. The plays were very well received, although critics warmed less to Platzova's first book "Salt, Sheep and Stones" published 2 years ago.

Loosely linked stories are set in Croatia and Prague and reflect on the lives of local people.I asked Magdalena Platzova whether she felt the book had been a success, despite the criticism.

"I did what I could do at that moment. But if you ask about the reviews, no it was very not successful. I had very nice responses from people who read it but there were notices in the newspapers which were very bad, very critical of me and very angry against me. I know the people who wrote them because I worked in Literarni Noviny. I know that it was also personal. These very angry, ugly, disgusting reactions were to my person."

To earn a living Magdalena Platzova worked as a translator and a journalist. She later became a literary editor of the Czech cultural weekly Literarni noviny where she came to the following conclusion.

"The Czech especially Prague literary scene is not very professional in the sense that friends should not write reviews about each other. There are only a few people who write reviews and it is all interconnected and they all have their little enemies and friends."

"The Return of the Friend" is the second and so far the last book by Magdalena Platzova. It is largely based on writer's own experience.

"When people turn thirty or when they approach that age they feel the need to look back and to look back at their own growing up. I really felt that there was one period in my life from 19 to 22 or 23 which was very important, very painful in some way and that I have blocked it out. I have lived through many very interesting and very important things. My first move to this theme was more psychological and therapeutic."

In the story a young woman, Magdalena, searches for independence and herself. She goes to a special school in England founded by an Indian philosopher. At the age of 19, shortly after the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia she leaves her homeland for the very first time. Here's a short extract.

And it began to bother me, what I would do when I left Fairfield. What I wanted to be. Before the revolution I'd wanted to be an actress, because there was no point in studying any of the humanities under the Communists. But afterwards acting seemed inadequate. Why learn someone else's words by heart and foist some meanings on them when now I could speak and write my own words? I got a six-month scholarship to an American university and my studies began somehow naturally to turn towards history. Now, at Fairfield, history begins to seem too limited. I brood over philosophy, maybe that alone would be worth studying - everything and nothing.

The story takes place in the space of a few years. Magdalena feels enchanted as the world opens up in front of her. Supported by her parents who spent their best years behind "the iron curtain" she travels to Switzerland, India and Paris, explores new ideas and meets interesting people.

After my return Claude was ever more uncertain. He phoned me in Prague as soon as I'd got back from India and suggested he came to visit for a couple of days. I'd completely forgotten that any Claude existed and that I was going out with him. He must have felt how shocked I was by the idea, and it hurt him. We got together again in school, but he no longer trusted me, and asked so many questions that in the end I told him about Christopher.

He didn't manage to break off with me, but his body did it for him. When we were together he was constantly aroused, but as soon as it was time to do something, suddenly he couldn't. The more he tried, the more embarrassing it became, not that he left off, no way, he conquered me like a mountain and almost wept with rage and humiliation. He thought of nothing else.

Magdalena finally comes to the realization that there is no escape and she has to face herself. She returns to Prague where she struggles a great deal, living in some kind of delirium.

Everything came together in one whole, which I couldn't understand at all. Which wasn't any real whole because it couldn't unite or be inclusive, there were so many contradictions in it. But there must have been something there, something beyond the wall, beyond that steep and slippery wall in front of which I stood! Some sort of context. When I could read no longer I ran down the road, down into the wood where in the autumn I'd found a weasel in a trap. It was spring. The world decomposed itself before my eyes and its separate parts bored their way into me with unbearable urgency. They mined their way into me, nested there. Painful details: a particular angle of the light, the glint of knives and forks and of glass, steam rising from the plates, fruit in a bowl. How full and heavy was that fruit. The weight of things pained me, the temperature of their colours. Buds of cherries sprouting from grey, frozen bark. Fragile stalks of grass. I sucked everything in hungrily, in the hope that the picture would come together, but in vain.

Captured in the city which she loves and hates, Magdalena misses her best friend Usa. Although they are both reluctant to grow up they do so without noticing it and soon fall out. It is time to settle down and come back to reality.

I ran lightly and surely, away from that wall. From questions turning in circles. I had unexpectedly discovered the connection. It was in my body and plainly had nothing to do with thought. I looked around at the sky, the trees. The clouds shaped themselves into pictures, but I decided I would no longer assign a meaning to them.

"I am not the type of destructive author who likes to squeeze people, to destroy in his text. I don't like to torture people. I don't like violence. My writing is probably very smooth, light and beautiful; I would like it to be elegant. I was even reapproached that I sizzle too much, that I make it too polished like set of mirrors. I like this way of writing, I like the style, the preciseness and beauty of text. I don't like sloppiness, extra superfluous words that should not be there. Maybe it is something that I have from poetry. I used to write poetry but then I stopped. It is extremely difficult to write it is just reduced to the minimum you can not go around things you cannot work on it like on a prose. Poetry is something like an essence but I would like my prose to be as much pure as possible in that way."

"The Return of the Friend" flows well and is a good, relaxing read. There are no bumps, distractions, tragedies nor violence, just a simple story of a young girl who goes far in search for something that has been at her doorstep all along. But she had to step back to find it.

"My approach to writing is that I like or love or I enjoy writing the text. The beginning for me is this process of writing. For my mother I think the more important thing is what the text is about. I think for her writing is like a tool which she uses to write about things she wants to write about. I am more into the writing itself."

Magdalena's mother is herself a writer. While she is more of a journalist and used to write novels just to keep herself in shape while listed as a forbidden author, her daughter prefers novels and hopes to stick with fiction for good.

"A very important thing is how it is written, what is done with it, how to be true. I used to work as an assistant to Petr Lebl who was a very talented director in the theatre Na Zabradli in Prague, he committed a suicide. It was great to observe him when he staged the play "Nasi Furianti" a classic old Czech nationalistic play. How to make actors say these words that are a complete lie so they sound true, how he can say it and not lie. This is something that I think is very important in my writing, to find a form how to talk about certain things I want to talk about and not to lie."

Despite her short career Platzova has already been given a label - she is stamped a typical feminist writer.

"I came to this gender question or to this question of women writing because I published with a feminist publishing house, then I was kind of classified as a woman writer. I am really fed up with it. There is only good or bad writing and all these divisions are only good for theoreticians, for gender critics. But for a person who writes this is such rubbish. A question whether you write like a man or a woman or like an elephant is totally unimportant."