Marie Chribkova, a publisher with a difference

Marie Chribkova

This week in Czech Books we talk to Marie Chribkova, proprietor of One Woman Press, which was founded in 1997. She tells us what inspired her to found her own publishing house.

We're going to be looking at one of the authors you published recently, Magdalena Platzova, who was born in 1972. Last year you published a collection of her short stories. "Salt, Sheep and Stone" is the English translation, and I'm going to be reading some extracts from her work. I'll start off with an extract about a house that she and her partner have bought and are repairing on a small island in the southern part of Croatia, in Dalmatia.

"I think of that little patch of island a thousand kilometres from here, of the foundations more than five hundred years old on which the house stands, the three floors, one hundred and twenty square metres. Over the door, on the lintel of white stone from which the house is built, is a sign. No one in the little town knows what it means. It's made up of Hebrew or Arabic letters and obviously cornes from the workshop of the Renaissance stonemason and architectJura Dalmantinac. I open the door, pass under the sign, take a cor- ridor around the kitchen to the back, and climb the red-varnished stairs. They creak under my feet. They are narrow, and twist at such sharp angles that not one stick of furniture can be carried up them, everything must be taken to pieces downstairs, carried up in pieces and put together again in the rooms. When someone dies in one of these old houses, they have to be wrapped in a sheet while still warm, carried down to the ground floor and only there placed in the coffin. If a body were to stiffen on an upper floor, it would never be possible to wind it down the stairs.

There are two little rooms on the first floor. In one, under the window, there is an old sink made from a piece of stone. This used to be the kitchen, whilst the ground floor, which is relatively cool in the summer, was used for storing oil, wine, honey, dried and salted meat and fish, wood and various tools. This is because the town stands on a bog and not one of its houses has a cellar. I discovered pink paint under the white plaster in the first room, theother was blue. On the next floor is a large bedroom and under the roof yet another room, panelled in wood. A door leads from here onto a terrace.

I walk through the freshly painted, half-empty house from top to bottom. Not a single cranny is strange to me, I have touched every centimetre of this house. I am in Prague thinking about my house. I say to myself: I have a house. It doesn't matter that I'm not there. I'm slow to penetrate it, long after Arnost. I imagine how it's standing there, locked up, quiet, prepared at any time to have us settled in. I stand alone in front of its door, I open it, go in, andquietly sit inside. The floor is resistant to my feet, the ceiling rises over myhead. I sense how my restless, insecure soul materialises as the house, with relief lets itself be bound by its walls."

Could you say something about the range of books that you've published over the years?

"I have two editions, fiction and non-fiction. In the fiction section I usually publish translations, usually from so-called "small" languages, Ukrainian, Polish, Finnish, Greek, but also German, French and of course English. In the non-fiction section I chose the best book I could show Czech readers, that is "The Female Eunuch" by Germaine Greer, and even if it's 30 years old, it's still fresh, at least in the language and form - how the author is thinking and expressing her ideas. And it's true that it was pretty popular among readers. Also in this non-fiction section I have published essays by Virginia Woolf, for example "A Room of One's Own", which was not published in Czech before. Also I have tried to bring Czech readers more information about homosexuality, so I published two books on this topic. One is called "A Desired Past" and the second one is "Surpassing the Love of Men", and I think the books, even if each is written from a different point of view, are very good to help you understand homosexuality."

I'm going to read a further extract from the collection of short stories by Magdalena Platzova. This extract is about one of the people in the small town where she and Arnost are building up their house:

"I can't even remember the name of Berna's daughter, I'II call her Vlcice the She-wolf. She has light grey eyes studded with yellow flecks, spiked in the middle with small black pupils. In the season she does the washing up in a restaurant, night shifts and day shifts. I don't know what she does the nightsshe doesn't work, but her free days she mostly spends sitting on the step in front of her parents' home, crouched up like her father, only her nose sticking out like a pointed muzzle, and her knees. I've never seen her cook or clean, Berna looks after that. Sometimes Vlcice gets up and slowly walks down the street, looking into the open windows of the kitchens, which are low enough for you to lean comfortably on the window sill and chat with those inside. We don't chase her away, so she stops at our place, greets us in her masculine. husky voice, and looks to see what we're doing. Then she asks for a cigarette or money. Her parents have forbidden her to beg from us, so she asks in a whisper and only when Berna isn't watching.

Her eldest son is twelve, the younger ten. The little one is four and his name is Mario. In the evenings Mario and I rinse the paving stones in front of the house. We like to sling water over the sun-warmed street and slosh it around with a broom, so that after the day the dust is washed away and the air freshened, and we can get ourselves nice and wet at the same time. We argue about who will sling and who will slosh, he wants to do both himself, and when I don't let him he howls. In the evening he comes to say good night. In his flannel pyjamas, his hair wet, he walks with a dignified air down the street litby orange lanterns.

Mario doesn't resemble his brothers, who inherited their wolfish faces from their mother. He has a button nose, hair like straw pissed on by a cow, and freckles. Only his mother knows who he got them from. His father may have been a local guy, or some fly-by-night."

"Magdalena sent her first text to me three or four years ago, and when I first read it I thought - great, this is the Czech author I was looking for - because before I was only publishing translations. Magdalena's writing was something that was fitting to my idea. The first text, the short stories, are mainly connected with the south of Croatia, Dalmatia, because her partner is from this area, and she was going there very often and spent a lot of time there. So she knows very well the local people, all the stories, and so on. She felt she had to write about it. So this is the first book she published. This year we published her second text, a novel about a young women, how she is searching for her independence. This book starts when the main figure is 19 years old, it lasts for three or four years, starting in England, where she is studying in a special school founded by an Indian philosopher, and it finishes in Prague, when she finds out that she cannot escape from herself and has no reason to travel around the world, because she has to face herself."

I think this is a very interesting book about the first years after the changes in 1989 for a young person.

"It's set in the beginning of the 1990s so for some people it's a kind of 'generation novel' - how young people could travel abroad, meet other people, other nationalities, something totally different from what they are used to, and how they react in the face of such new experiences."

We'll end now by hearing a little bit about another neighbour on the island. This is about Nedelko, who has been helping them in the house:

Nedelko props himself against the wall by his shoulder blades and one bare foot, arms burnt red by the sun stick out from the white T -shirt, under his nose the little brush of a shining black moustache . He smoothes his forelock with his hand and swallows, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.

"Where's your husband?"

He looks at my bare shoulders, at my breasts in the summer dress, at my thighs soaked in dirty water. His ears turn red, he's breathless, he has noth- ing more to say. He peels himself off the wall and belts downstairs.

Nedelko has the idea that if two people are repairing a house together , they must be husband and wife.

"Bring me a Czech girl and I'll marry her. Bring her as soon as possible, at Christmas, I'll kill a lamb, we'll roast it and drink and get bedded down, you with yours and I'll look after the Czech girl, ho ho," laughs Nedo, when all three of us are sitting with a beer on the piazza in the evening. He's helped us a lot in the house, which means we have to spend the evenings with him. Sometimes we contrive to disappear before he's had time to change after work, but even then we run into him. The town, you see, is built to a plan by Jura Dalmatinac, one of those rare Renaissance towns which has submitted to order, airy and open, in which all the streets are straight and perpendicular to each other. It's almost impossible to get lost or to avoid someone.

So almost every evening we end up with Nedelko on the piazza, talking about the sheep he has, the wife he doesn't have, and sometimes about fish. When we have gone over those three topics, always in the same words, silence falls.

You can find out more about One Woman Press (including summaries in English) at

Books for this programme supplied by Shakespeare and Sons.