Renowned author Ludvik Vaculik turns eighty

Ludvik Vaculik

This past Sunday, Ludvik Vaculik celebrated his 80th birthday. One of the Czech Republic's most well-known and respected writers, Ludvik Vaculik has been part of the Czech literary scene since the 1950s. He has written several novels, literally hundreds of essays, not to mention some of the most important political texts of twentieth century Czechoslovak history.

He was born in Brumov, near Zlin, south Moravia, on July 23, 1926. Ludvik Vaculik started to toy with the written word when he was thirteen—it was then that he began to keep a diary that would be published 45 years later under the title "The Indian Book." Ludvik Vaculik says that it was the only time in his life when he actually enjoyed writing, when writing came easily and he knew exactly what to say.

Gerry Turner first met Ludvik Vaculik in 1976, when he was asked to interpret between the Czech writer and Tom Stoppard, the Czech-British playwright who was visiting Czechoslovakia. By then the communist authorities had banned Vaculik from publishing and his texts were circulating in the samizdat underground. It was what Gerry Turner describes as a "turning point," and though the two men did not see one another again for ten years, Gerry Turner—known as A.G. Brain in those days—translated many of the author's texts into English during the 1970s and 1980s. He recalls two of Ludvik Vaculik's essays that still stand out after all these years:

Gerry Turner
"Well, the one that immediately stands out for me is the essay that he wrote at the time of Chernobyl—which I translated—where he is with Hanzlik in Zlin. I think it's one of the funniest pieces of writing that I've ever read because it is so understated and the horror of the situation comes through in a very insidious way. One can only call it shorthand, the way that he operates. I would compare it in many ways with the essay he wrote just after the demonstrations in Prague at the beginning of 1989—that piece was called 'Komunismus je biti.' There, again, he can convey in a very downbeat way a very horrific situation. And therein is his power as a writer—he's not an emphatic writer."

Though his critics may not always agree with what he writes, few would claim that Ludvik Vaculik is anything less than a master of the written word. At eighty, he still writes a weekly column for the daily Lidove Noviny newspaper, and he's currently preparing another collection of diary-type entries for publication. As always, Ludvik Vaculik will give Czech readers something to think about.