Friday, December 23, 2011

MEMOIR LAUNCHED!!

My memoir, Prague: My Long Journey Home, went "live" today. While it is available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, the fastest and simplest way to order it is directly from the publisher, Abbott Press. Simply click on:

http://bookstore.abbottpress.com/Products/SKU-000500210/Prague-My-Long-Journey-Home.aspx

and you're there. Then, on the right side of the page, select either the soft-cover book or the hard-cover book. (The e-book will be available soon.)

I will be pleased and honored if you read my memoir, and I will appreciate your comments about it.

Thank you, and I wish you Happy Holidays and all the best for he new year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sad day -- and not only for Czechs

Today is a sad day for all the world because one of our great humanitarians and statesmen died. Vaclav Havel was the first president of free Czechoslovakia -- and later the Czech Republic -- after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He was the last of my heroes in public life, and I mourn his loss.

Friday, December 16, 2011

PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME is being printed!


Here it is: the cover of Prague: My Long Journey Home. The book will be available shortly. I will keep everyone informed via this blog, my Facebook page, and a blast e-mail to those on my mailing list. Anyone who wishes to be added to the latter should respond via my web site:



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An ambassadorial endorsement of PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME

I was pleased and honored to receive the following endorsement for my upcoming book, Prague: My Long Journey Home, from His Excellency Petr Gandalovic, Czech Republic's Ambassador to the United States:

"I thoroughly enjoyed reading Charles Heller’s new book, Prague: My Long Journey Home, an insightful and inspiring glimpse into the life of a man who was forced to deny his ethnic roots after coming to his new country but sought to uncover his old identity years later. Mr. Heller’s personal story, rather exceptional within the Czech-American community, touches upon several painful topics of our past and forces us to think about our identity in relations to our homeland. His authentic, powerful experiences present a better understanding of our history. I thank Charles Heller for having the courage to share his poignant and profound story with the world, in order to have a record of a history that should never be forgotten."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Endorsements for PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME

As Prague: My Long Journey Home enters the production stage, endorsements are coming in from its early readers. Here are three:

“I enjoyed reading Charles Heller’s book Prague: My Long Journey Home. Having lived through the same times in occupied Czechoslovakia and later under Communists, coming to America 20 years after Dr. Heller, I understand and appreciate his experiences. His life is an example of tragedy, talent, enthusiasm, accomplishment and of never giving up. I was so impressed by the book that I invited Charles to present his life story at the Conference of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU) in New York in June 2011. Response of the audience was overwhelming. In fact, it was suggested to put it on the program of the 26th World Congress of SVU again in 2012. What a story!”

Karel Raška, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.
President, Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU), New Brunswick, NJ


“It is not enough to record history; we must invigorate it. If generations after us listen and learn from history and make the world better for having done so, it will be because we told good stories. Charles Heller, by vividly recounting the story of his life, provides a window to the Czech-American immigrant experience, and makes an important contribution to the body of literature that will capture the hearts and minds of the future.”
Gail Naughton
President/CEO, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa


Prague: My Long Journey Home is an entertaining, compelling, and valuable complement to the several books I have read about Czech immigration to the U.S. It happened to a college classmate and professional colleague, not to someone’s grandparents. It puts a human face on the many stories of suffering, torture, and determination to seek freedom and succeed that had been ‘just on paper.’ Documentaries on Terezín, Lidice, Heydrich, and the aftermath of WW-II make the book even more valuable in telling ‘the rest of the story.’ ”
Bart Childs
Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME is in production!

As of this week, all edits and preliminary tasks are finished. Prague: My Long Journey Home is in production at Abbott Press. The cover for the soft-cover version and the dust jacket for the hard-cover book are being prepared, and the manuscript is in the process of typesetting, pagination, etc. It's an exciting time.

The approximate publication schedule is:
     e-book -- late December
     soft-cover book -- early January
     hard-cover book -- late January

Thank you for your interest, and please watch for my announcements of publication dates.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pat Conroy 'Way Back Then

As readers of this blog know, I'm a huge fan of Pat Conroy. I consider him the finest living American writer and am insanely jealous of his ability to paint lifelike characters and scenes, and to keep a story moving at a torrid pace. I am on a mission to read three or four of his books which, for some strange reason, I have missed along the way. At the moment, I'm reading The Great Santini. A few days ago, I finished Conroy's first book, The Boo. The latter experience was a bit of a shock because, until I went back and read the introduction, I thought I was reading a book written by someone else.

The Boo is the nickname of a man --Lt. Colonel Thomas Nugent Courvoisie, Assistant Commandant of Cadets -- a major figure in the author's life while he (Conroy) was a cadet at The Citadel. The book is a collection of stories of cadet life at the South Carolina military school. Since I failed to read the introduction before beginning to read the body of the book, I was struck by the fact that something was missing: Conroy's usual gorgeous descriptions of people and places, the beauty and passion of his writing -- those characteristics I've come to expect of this great writer.

Finally, about halfway through The Boo, I returned to the introduction, and then I understood. This was Pat Conroy's first book, written when he was a young man only recently having graduated from The Citadel, one who wanted to be a poet. In his own words:  "...it would take me years to learn that prose required the same intensity and commitment (as poetry) of spirit. In 1969, prose was something I dashed off quickly; prose, all my prose, was a letter to the world telling what happened to me last summer. The Boo was my longest letter to the world; it was my angriest."

Once I read the introduction, I enjoyed the book immensely. Not only did it provide me with a picture of the life of a cadet, written by a young man who had only recently departed from that fortress of discipline, but it demonstrated the growth of a writer from the amateurish first pages to the mature voice of a writer at the end. Any fan of Pat Conroy needs to read The Boo in order to appreciate his growth as a writer.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A most powerful Holocaust memoir

A couple of weeks ago, on the last day of our vacation in Canada, Sue and I walked into a used-book shop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The "kid-in-a-candy-store" analogy is much too weak a description of my elation at being surrounded by thousands of wonderful friends just waiting to be read. I got lucky in this messy, yet organized, Valhalla.

In my continuing attempt to reconnect with, and to understand, my past, I have spent recent years reading hundreds of books about the Second World War -- particularly those dealing with the Holocaust. As if guided by an invisible hand in that Halifax store, I walked directly to a shelf at the end of which stood a tiny, soft-cover, 120-page, gem with a simple title -- NIGHT.

Written by the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Elie Wiesel, NIGHT is a powerful account of his experiences in German concentration camps. I have read several of Mr. Wiesel's other books, but this one touched me more than the rest. Particularly powerful and poignant is the author's relationship to his father -- how he (16 years old at war's end) and his dad protected and cared for one another under circumstances so unbearable that they strain one's imagination. Wiesel's account of the cruelty of the Nazis is almost inconceivable, while the bravery and tenacity of the victims are beyond admirable.

While NIGHT is an almost unbearable read, it is a necessary one. I am grateful to Elie Wiesel and his fellow survivors for having borne witness to the horrors of  the Holocaust and for sharing their memories with us.                                                                                  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

U.S. publisher selected

Last week, I came to an agreement with a publisher for the English-language (original) version of my first memoir, which is titled Prague: My Long Journey Home. The publisher is Abbott Press, a division of Writer's Digest, located in Bloomington, Indiana. We will be publishing both a hard-cover book and a trade paperback; at the same time, we will make it available as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.

I hope it will be possible to have the book available prior to the Holidays. However, that may be a tall order, and I may have to be satisfied with hitting the market early next year. I will keep everyone posted on the expected launch date. Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New title for upcoming English-language memoir

Following the successful launch of the Czech-language version of my first memoir, we are in the final stages of preparing for publication in the U.S. the English-language version. The book's title will be:

PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME
A Memoir of Survival, Denial and Redemption

The current publication target is late October 2011, with an earlier date for e-books in formats for most available e-readers: Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, iPad.

Monday, June 20, 2011

From Prague, an English-language review of my book

Having survived World War II, 13-year-old Ota Karel Heller was told to forget everything that happened when he and his parents left for the United States in 1948. Now in his mid-70s with a successful stateside career, Charles Ota Heller — as he is now called — revisits his past with all its blemishes in “Dlouhá cesta domů,” a newly published Czech version of a memoir he originally wrote in English as “Out of Prague: A Memoir of Survival, Denial and Triumph.”

His account of disconnecting and reconnecting with his Jewish and Czech heritage is the culmination of a journey that began after the Velvet Revolution, when Heller started remembering things he had been forced to forget.

While in Prague to promote the book, Heller was still trying to track down his relatives. Bits and pieces of his family’s history are still missing. A similar visit in the early 1990s to Prague’s former Jewish Quarter in Josefov proved decisive for Heller’s coming to terms with his past.

“I remember being there all alone and staring at the wall [listing names of vicitims of the Holocaust],” he said about one of his first visits two decades ago. “It was very emotional — finding my grandmother’s name exactly where I was looking for mine.” ‘I tried to tell myself that I didn’t know. … I just completely blocked these things out.’

Heller lost most of his relatives in the Holocaust. It wasn’t until recently that he’s come to embrace his Jewish heritage — a vital chunk of his life.

“I knew my father was Jewish, but I never thought about the rest of it,” he said. “I tried to tell myself that I didn’t know, but I don’t think that’s completely true because there are many things I could connect. I just completely blocked these things out.”

Child’s eye view

The memoir opens with a recollection that Heller buried deeply. It was only in 2004 that he confided to his mother about when he was 9 years old he had shot a man he thought was a German soldier. Looking back, Heller hopes he had perhaps just wounded the man, who turned out to be a Czech Nazi collaborator. Back then, though, he “felt as if [he] had singlehandedly won the war,” he wrote in his memoir.

Unlike most World War II accounts, Heller presents the conflict from a child’s perspective, where youth’s naivety and the harsh realities of the times blend into unsettling accounts. ‘That’s how I thought about it — I was proud of the fact that my father was fighting the Germans.’

Heller’s father joined the British Army in 1940 and his mother was taken away to a labor camp in 1944 after hiding Ota on a farm where he spent most of the war. He never assumed that any of this had to do with religion.

“Every time something happened — like being thrown out of our home, being told that I’m not allowed to go to school — the reason I was always given by my mother [or] by my great-grandfather was, ‘Your father is fighting against the Germans,’” he said. “And that’s how I thought about it — I was proud of the fact that my father was fighting the Germans, and the fact that I was being deprived of various things, actually rather than suffering, I felt proud that in a way I was helping my father.”

The American dream

The break that Heller has been trying to mend as an adult came in 1948, when he and his parents left for the US. Since Heller’s father served in the British Army, the family was offered immediate asylum in the UK. Heller’s father turned it down, though, and the family spent a year-and-a-half in a refugee camp in the US sector in Germany waiting for a pass to what Heller’s father saw as “the land of opportunity.”

Settling in Morristown, New Jersey, Heller was directed by his parents to forget about the past. Renamed Charlie, he decided to become as American as possible. His family shied away from Czech and Slovak communities and spoke English at home in an attempt to assimilate as much as possible. ‘They told me I could become anything I wanted to be if I worked hard, and it was really true.’

“They told me I could become anything I wanted to be if I worked hard, and it was really true,” Heller said. “They told me I simply had to work harder than the Americans.”

Since starting over, Heller has gone on to become a successful academic, engineer and entrepreneur. He said he’s come to admire his parents for leaving behind their clothing manufacturing firm in Kojetice near Prague and walking to the US sector with two suitcases, bundled-up in blankets, going from wealthy entrepreneurs to minimum-wage laborers.

Speaking for his generation

After 1989, when the US began to take greater interest in Central Europe, Heller became interested in putting his memories down on paper. For a while, he was reluctant to connect his vignettes into a bigger work, doubting that anyone outside of his family would care to read about his experience. His own battle with the past as well as a desire to give a voice to the millions of children who lived in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s and whose lives have been shaped by the war eventually drove him to engage in a six-year writing project of more than self-discovery.

While he continues to search for a publisher in the US for the English version of is memoir, Heller’s already working on follow-up books about his life after coming to the US tentatively called “Cowboy of Prague” and “Ready, Fire, Aim: A Tale of Entrepreneurial Terror.”

Martina Čermáková is a Prague-based freelance writer



Dlouhá cesta domů

In Czech

240 pages

Available at bookstores and from

www.kniha.cz

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book cover

Several friends who have followed my blogs about my "magical book tour" have asked why I haven't shown the photo on the cover of my book. Thank you all for the heads-up. Here is the beautiful, melancholy image of a family on the bank of the river Vltava by Czech photographer Pavel Kolin.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Czech-language book available in North America

In order to save shipping costs for Czech-speaking North Americans who wish to purchase Dlouha cesta domu, we have made arrangements with a Canadian book-selling web site from which the book can be ordered. Please go on

                                              http://www.czech-books.com/

and request Dlouha cesta domu by Charles Ota Heller. Thank you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Final day of book tour -- May 2, 2011

On the way to the Prague airport at five in the morning, I asked our friend Vlada to turn on the radio in order to catch the weather forecast. The first announcement we heard was: "Osama bin Laden is dead!" After a brief celebration, I experienced a selfish reaction. "Why couldn't they have waited a day?" I had been told that the story about me and my book was to run in that morning's Lidove noviny, one of the largest and most popular newspapers in the Czech Republic. Now, I thought, the story will be pushed into some remote corner of page 83.

After going through security, Sue and I headed to a newstand, where we picked up three copies of the paper. We took them with us to a nearby coffeeshop. We bought our breakfast and prepared to sift through the innards of the paper, in search of the story. Then -- surprise! There it was, on the FRONT page! The headline announced, "Strelil 'nacistu'. Bylo mu devet" ("He Shot a Nazi. He Was Nine"). The article continued on the back page, with photos from the book, plus one of me holding Dlouha cesta domu in my hand. What a finish to a fantastic book launch!

I am grateful to the Navy SEALS, not only for shooting America's Number One Enemy, but for waiting to announce it long enough to miss the deadlines of Europe's morning newspapers.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Days 7 and 8 of book tour -- April 30-May 1, 2011


The formal book tour finished, Sue and I are free to spend the weekend with friends. Saturday is devoted to time with my distant cousin, Sylva Pustina (right in bottom photo), her husband Karel, and son Daniel (left in photo). All escaped from the communist regime and reside in Germany. Sylva and Karel have been at their Czech weekend home for three weeks; Daniel drives from Nurenberg (often at 200-plus km/hr) in the morning. We spend the day exploring Prague. Sylva has read a good portion of my book, and she corrects me on one matter, adds information about another, and then floors me by telling me that her dad had been arrested by the communists in 1948 after receiving a postcard from my father, informing him that we had made it "to the other side." When I wonder why I had never been told this by my parents, Sylva tells me that she doesn't think they knew. I will make the correction and additions to the English-language version of the book. If I'm lucky enough to have a second printing, I will also add them to the Czech version.

We spend Sunday with my oldest friend, Vlada Svoboda (left in top photo) and his wife Marie. We explore Prague, pay homage to the Nazi-destroyed village of Lidice, and complete our day at the beautiful State Opera House, where we see Antonin Dvorak's "Rusalka."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 6 of book tour -- April 29, 2011

I have Friday morning off. Sue and I walk to Josefov, site of a memorial where the names of 77,000 Czech victims of the Holocaust are printed on walls, in the manner of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. The martyrs are listed by their home towns. Each time we go, I find another member of my family. This time, listed among the victims from the town of Kralupy, I discover the man who raised my father after my paternal grandfather was killed in World War I. I find Papa's uncle, Emil Neumann, born October 10, 1891, and murdered on October 26, 1942, along with 11 members of his immediate family. Most people use city and state records to trace their geneologies; I fill in the missing pieces of mine by visiting memorials.

In the afternoon, it's back to work. First, I meet with Martina Cermakova, editor of the Prague Daily Monitor, an English-language daily newspaper (http://www.ceskapozice.cz/en/s?keys=Charles+Ota+Heller). My second session is with Dana Vlckova from the magazine, Nase rodina (Our Family). The third interview of the day, and last of my magical tour, is interesting because it is with two university students who represent the website http://www.topzine.cz/ and who have a totally different view of the world from that of their adult counterparts. A young man whose name I don't know accompanies a pretty young lady named Katerina Ciborova. After having answered the same questions from various members of the media all week, it is refreshing to hear the young guy say: "Leaving your country must be like breaking up with your girlfriend. Really difficult." I laugh and agree.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 5 of book tour -- April 28, 2011

I have reserved most of Thursday for our traditional loop of Prague-Kralupy-Melnik-Kojetice-Prague. My father was born and grew up in Kralupy. Melnik castle sits high on a hilltop, overlooking the confluence of the nation's two great rivers -- Vltava (Moldau) and Labe (Elbe) -- and overlooks the mountain Rip, which is important both in the history of the nation and that of my family. Kojetice is the village in which I grew up, the home of our former clothing factory.

Our friends, Vlada and Marie Svoboda, pick us up at the hotel. After a brief stop in Kralupy, we enjoy the sunshine and view from an outdoor table at the Melnik castle. It has become our tradition to drink a glass of Ludmila wine there (regardless of time of day), just as my parents did before and after the war. On to Kojetice, where we meet our good friend and town historian, Jaroslav Kucera. Together, we place flowers on a monument honoring local citizens who died in the two world wars. The WW-II plaque includes the names of my great-grandfather, grandfather, great-uncle, and godfather. Jaroslav has arranged for a tour of our former apartment and factory. Both are sad facsimiles of what were once a magnificent home and a bustling plant. I had received them through restitution a few years back and sold them, hoping that the buyer would restore them to their former glory. No such luck.

After a brief interlude in the Kucera home -- where Mother and I had lived in a single room for several months during the war -- we head for Prague and another interview. I spend an hour with Judita Matyasova of Lidove noviny, one of the nation's major newspapers. Judita doesn't finish, so she hops in a cab with Sue, Tony Koci, and me to complete her questioning, while we ride to the American Center of the U. S. Embassy. As she departs, Judita informs me that her article will run in Monday's paper.

Our friend Jana "Stepanka" Matesova arranged for me to speak and read (in English) at the American Center. The session is attended by a small, but very interested, group. Surrounded by flags and a banner featuring my book, I read the "hook" -- the story of my shooting a Nazi when I was nine years old. I sign books for those present and for Ambassador Norman Eisen.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day 4 of book tour -- April 27, 2011


Following an interview with the magazine "Sedmicka" ("Seven") -- one of many periodicals owned by my publisher, Mlada Fronta -- I change into the new suit I had bought expressly for the Big Occasion. Sue and I walk (in Prague, one nearly always walks) to Wenceslas Square and to the Luxor bookstore, where the book will be launched officially, with ceremonies slated to begin at five o'clock. Known as the Palace of Books, the seven-floor store is the largest in the Czech Republic. When we walk in, we are greeted by an announcement of the launch and reading on the PA system. It appears that we'll have walk-ins, as well as the invited guests in attendance.

After a brief strategy meeting, four of us take our places at the head table. Left to right in the photo: Antonin Koci (MF editor), Irena Zikova (translator and interpreter), I (the author -- sorry, I like the sound of that!), and Alexander Turkovic (District Governor-elect of the nation's Rotary clubs).

Tony Koci gives a brief welcoming speech and, suddenly, the mike is in my hand. In English with Irena translating, I introduce all those in the audience who are "characters" in my book. Then I surprise everyone by reading -- in Czech -- an episode describing my melodramatic return to Prague after the Velvet Revolution. There is applause and, as I look out over the crowd, some -- particularly our friends -- seem as emotional as I am. Sasha Turkovic speaks briefly about the meaning of Rotary and makes a connection between my life and Rotary's motto, "service above self." A Q&A session follows. Among many other questions, I am asked, perhaps for the tenth time this week, whether I feel more American or Czech. For the tenth time, I give the same answer: "Both, equally." [The next day, after some introspection, I will modify this answer.]

Finally, the big moment arrives. We break open the champagne and, with Sue joining the celebration, we christen the book. DLOUHA CESTA DOMU has been launched! I stay for a long time to sign books and finally have to be pulled away for yet another interview, this one with Czech Radio Leonardo.

As Sue and I walk away with our good friend, Jitka Thomasova, in search of a pub, I feel overwhelmed. Is this really happening? More than six years of writing and rewriting, Now, I really have a book.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 3 of book tour -- April 26, 2011



























It's time to get to work. At 8 am, I meet with Antonin (Tony) Koci and Magdalena Potmesilova of Mlada Fronta, my publisher. They brief me about the national TV show, called CT24, on which I will appear this morning at 10:10. The show is the equivalent of America's morning shows, and my segment will be ten minutes long. The station sends a taxi which whisks Sue and me to one of Czech TV's several buildings. Butterflies in my stomach are dancing a Czech polka while the make-up lady makes a futile attempt to make me beautiful. I'm wired and escorted to the studio. My hostess is a blond woman named Patricie Strouhalova. We sit behind a curved desk, with my book standing between us, its cover facing the camera. Suddenly, the red light goes on and Strouhalova begins speaking. I listen to her announcing the next segment in Czech, while an interpreter's calm voice is repeating her words to me in English. I find it distracting. It would be much better if my hostess were speaking a language foreign to me; I wouldn't be listening to both voices. I am asked to speak about my life and about the book. I'm o.k. and think that I handle the questions well until Strouhalova throws me a curveball. Opening my book to a page with a photo showing my father in a British army uniform in Tobruk, Lybia, she asks me about the current war in that country. I recover and give a bland answer. After that, the rest of the show is a blur -- and then it's over. I sit and stare into the camera until the red light goes off. I remember an old adage: any publicity is better than no publicity.

In the afternoon, I am interviewed by transplanted Englishman David Vaughan for an English-language program on Czech Radio 7, Prague. The show is taped, so I relax, knowing that any screw-up can be deleted.

In the evening, Sue and I walk to the Hotel Pariz (Paris), where I speak to the Rotary Club of Old Town. All but one Rotarian speak English, so I give the story of the book in my second language. Then I surprise the audience by reading a piece from my book in Czech. I stumble occasionally, but the Rotarians are kind and compliment me on "such great pronounciation." I stay after the meeting to sign books. As we head back to the hotel in a light drizzle, I'm happy to have gotten through the first day and feel confident that I can handle the upcoming challenges.

[The TV program begins at 52:25 of http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ivysilani/10101491767-studio-ct24/211411058060426/ ]

Day 2 of book tour -- April 25, 2011

Today is a day off, in preparation for a superbusy week. It's Easter Monday, a national holiday in the Czech Republic. The irony is not lost on me: the world's most atheist (nearly 80%) nation celebrates Easter Monday! That's a subject I need to explore at another time.

Sue and I spend the day at Prague castle (photo), the most sacred spot in the CR. From there, we make our way down through Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter) to Stare Mesto (Old Town). In our hotel room, I sign my first book. Appropriately, it is for my collaborator on the book, our friend and my translator, Irena Zikova. We meet Irena for dinner in the elegant dining room of the Imperial Hotel. At dinner, we catch up on family happenings and strategize about the upcoming book launch event, at which Irena will be my interpreter. In the middle of the meal, Irena surprises me.

"I saw on your website the claim that you're a 'full-time writer,'" she says. "Don't make such a statement here. Czechs don't like bragging."
"That's bragging?" I ask.
"Yes, it is. You are not a writer. You're a successful businessman and educator. You may have written a book, but you're not yet a writer. That takes many years and much success."

I want to argue that I am now not only a writer, but I'm an author. Instead, I continue to chew my knedliky (those incredible Czech dumplings). I decide to follow Irena's advice as my magical book tour begins.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 1 of book tour -- April 24, 2011

We check into the Marriott hotel near the Municipal House in Prague. The moment I've been anticipating for weeks arrives. The bellman comes out of the baggage room with a stack of books, which had been sent there by my publisher, Mlada Fronta. They're wrapped in clear plastic, five to a package. I want to grab the top pack off the bellman's cart, to tear it apart, and start admiring. Instead, I think: is that what Pat Conroy would do? No way!

I act casual, pretending that I do this regularly. When the bellman spots my photo staring at him through the covering, he asks: "Vy?" ("You?"). I answer "Ano," ("Yes") and take satisfaction from the admiring look on his face. As soon as he leaves our room, I rip off the wrapper and begin the examination of the product of 75 years of my life and more than six years of writing, rewriting, editing, and more rewriting.

There really is a book with my name on its cover! It's called DLOUHA CESTA DOMU (LONG JOURNEY HOME), and it's beautiful.

That evening, Sue and I celebrate at a nearby pub, under the stars. I have my favorite dish -- svickova -- accompanied by the world's finest beer, and we toast the book. I am an author!

Friday, April 22, 2011

I'll be reading and signing at the American Center of the US Embassy in Prague on April 28

American Center's announcement:

Prague: A Long Journey Home by Charles Ota Heller

Ota Karel Heller was a Czech boy whose misfortune it was to be born a Christian-Jewish hybrid three years before a war which claimed the lives of six million people with whom he shared a common bond – of which he was totally unaware. He managed to survive, but fifteen of the victims of Nazi murderers were members of his family. Four years later – after his country was taken over by the communists – Ota Karel Heller disappeared. He was resurrected by his parents as Charles Ota Heller in America, having left not only his identity, but also memories and scars, behind on the other side of the Atlantic. Or so he thought… After many years of success as an American entrepreneur and academic, of happy marriage and fatherhood, and of having gained a degree of national prominence, he was confronted with demons of his past. Two cataclysmic events caused him to question his denial of his ethnic roots. He has written a memoir, Prague: A Long Journey Home, about his adventures. The book has been translated into Czech and published in 2011 by Mladá fronta as Dlouhá cesta domu. Program will be in English. Thursday, April 28, from 6:30 PM.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Preparing for book launch in Prague


This is an exciting time for me. The official launch of my memoir, Dlouha cesta domu (Long Journey Home) is only two weeks away. I will be signing at the Neoluxor, the largest bookstore in the country, in Prague on Wednesday, April 27. Various other signings and interviews in Prague and the surroundings have been arranged. I have my fingers crossed for a good reception by readers and reviewers!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Panel of Czech and Slovak immigrants

On Thursday, March 24, I will participate in a panel discussion at the Czech Embassy in Washington. We will talk about our experiences as Czech and Slovak immigrants trying to "make it in America." I'd like to invite interested readers of this blog to attend. The Embassy's invitation follows:

Dear Friends of Czech Culture:

The Embassy of the Czech Republic, in cooperation with the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML), will present the NCSML's oral history project: Recording Voices and Documenting Memories, on Thursday, March 24, at 6:30 pm.

The project captures and preserves the stories of Czechs and Slovaks who left their homeland during the Cold War era and who settled in Chicago, Cleveland, and Washington, DC. At this event, project coordinator Rosie Johnston will moderate a panel discussion to include previous interviewees Vojtech Mastny, Dagmar White, Charles Heller, Juraj Slavik, and John Palka. Major Gifts Officer Leah Wilson will be on hand to talk about the NCSML's progress towards rebuilding and expanding the museum campus since the flood of 2008.

Wine and light refreshments will be served after the discussion.

The event is part of the project Democracy and Human Rights: Lessons from the Past for the Current Czech Foreign Policy, organized by the Embassy of the Czech Republic from January through June 2011.


R.S.V.P. to czech_events@yahoo.com with “Oral History Project” in the subject line by March 23.

Additional questions: 202/274-9108, e-mail: jana_racova@mzv.cz

Location: Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom St., NW, Washington, DC 20008

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arnost Lustig

Recently, we completed the final edits of the galley proofs of the Czech-language translation of my memoir, DLOUHA CESTA DOMU (LONG JOURNEY HOME). The first two pages of the book-to-be are blank. They were waiting to be filled by words from the pen of one of the most widely read, and beloved, of Czech contemporary writers -- Arnost Lustig. Sadly, it will not happen. After a long, courageous, battle with cancer, Arnost Lustig died a week ago.

Mr. Lustig was a survivor of the concentration camps, Terezin and Auschwitz. At the latter, he saw his father marched off to a gas chamber and his mother humiliated by German soldiers. At the camps, too, he experienced goodness from fellow inmates who cared for and protected the young boy from the Nazis. His books, in both Czech and English, and several made into movies, were based on his experiences in the camps. Occupying a special place in my own library are his INDECENT DREAMS and LOVELY GREEN EYES.

Early last month, my Prague editor, a close friend of the writer, went to Lustig's apartment to ask if the Foreword to my book was finished. Arnost's daughter Eva said that it was not, but she expressed the hope that her father might dictate it to her from his sick-bed. That was not to be. He said that he doesn't know how to dictate and that he must write himself on his "machine."

Naturally, I am sad that this great man did not partner with me on my book. But, I am devastated by the fact that I did not have the opportunity to meet him. His friend, the American writer Tom Chilcotte, wrote: "Arnost took great pride in his ability to assess people quickly, a skill he learned out of necessity in the camps. He knew as soon as he met someone whether he would have liked to have been imprisoned with them." I'll never find out whether or not Arnost Lustig would have been willing to share a cell with me. I can only hope so.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

America's finest writer

There's no doubt that many people will disagree with me, but in my opinion, the finest living American writer is Pat Conroy. I say this despite -- or because of -- the fact that every time I read or reread one of his books, Conroy's prose forces me to realize how inadequate my own writing is. There is no one alive who can describe a tree, a flower, a feeling, a woman, or a sunset as beautifully as this man with deep roots in the American South.

"The beauty of language, shaped in sentences as pretty as blue herons, brought me to my knees with pleasure. I did not know that words could pour through me like honey through a burst hive or that gardens seeded in dark secrecy could bloom along the borders of my half-ruined boyhood because a writer could touch me in all the broken places with his art." "He made the English language seem like a tongue he had invented himself."

If I possessed the skill, I would write the above words in praise of Pat Conroy. Instead, I'm left with having to turn his own words (about other writers) on himself. In his latest book, My Reading Life, he has articulated, as only he could, my feeling for the beauty of his prose. Thank you, Pat Conroy!