“The Jewish-Czech author Martin Vopěnka is one of the leading voices in world literature, writing with ‘with a deft and compellingly simple control of sentences that is reminiscent of both Kafka and Kundera.” – Choice
It’s 2103 and Earth is baking. Scientists attempt to cool down the planet. With the coming of rain, a messiah is born. My Brother Messiah explores spirituality in the twilight of human civilization and presents a dark, vivid future of our world.
Watch this space – we’ll keep it updated with all current tour stops.
April 13th 6:30pm – Diesel Books, Brentwood, CA
In Conversation with Czech Writer and Visionary Martin Vopenka, with a reading by Czech actress Tereza Sbová.
April 20th – T.G. Masaryk Czech School, Cicero, IL
April 22nd – T.G. Masaryk Czech School, Cicero, IL
In Conversation with Martin Vopenka.
April 27th 6:00pm – The Czech Embassy, Washington, DC
In Conversation with Martin Vopenka.
May 3rd – Czech Centre NY, Bohemian National Hall, NY
In Conversation with Martin Vopenka, about his novels My Brother the Messiah and The Back of Beyond. Sign Up
Born in Serbia Tomislav Longinovic, PhD, is a world expert in Slavic folklore and imagery. His works include Vampire Nation: Violence as Cultural Imaginary and Vampires Like Us. He’s taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, at Harvard, and is emeritus professor of Slavic, Comparative Literature, and Visual Culture at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Reading the novel Red Hands, which tells the story of Communist Romania through the eyes of Iordana Ceausescu, the dictator’s daughter-in-law, brought back memories of Tomislav’s youth in what was then Communist Yugoslavia. ‘We had relatives who came to live with us in Belgrade from Romania during those worst years of heat and food restrictions,’ he recalls.
Tomislav was happy to meet up with Red Hands author Colin W. Sargent to discuss his responses to the book, two contrasting communist regimes… and seagulls!
TL: From where I am right now, I’m looking across the Danube to Romania. I told some friends I’d be talking to you. One said, “Romanian smugglers would drop goods right here in the Danube. Old scrap metal.” He pointed to the shore. “Even now, it’s full of scrap metal at the bottom that wasn’t picked up. The Romanian ships would drop, Serbian ships pick up.” There was also a contraband business in oil.
CS: Something’s always going on behind the scenes.
TL: That’s very resonant in Red Hands. Of course, to Romanians, Yugoslavia was a Western country, a haven. My family had Romanian relatives across the river. When they were cold and hungry, two or three came here to take refuge with my father during the final years of the Ceausescu regime. So it’s all very close to me.
CS: I’m hoping Red Hands connects with your Vampire Nation, the way the West has unconsciously or consciously tried to submerge Balkan countries with blood and vampire imagery. Even the Romanians couldn’t resist. During the Romanian revolution, crowds put up “Death to the Dracu Grandson” posters on subway walls in Bucharest while Iordana and her son were fleeing the city.
TS: That’s a really, really good connection [which makes Iordana’s sneaker fascination for the West, along with other young members of the Nomenclatura, more complex]. I really liked reading that part.
CS: I laughed at the idea that playing bridge was forbidden by the Ceausescus, because it brought intellectuals together. Was that the case in Yugoslavia?
TS: No, not on that level at all. The main terror was in 1945 to 1948, and then when Tito broke with Stalin, things began to stabilize. Tito was tracking a middle course, getting western loans. We were comparatively lucky. None of my family was part of the communist movement. I always felt a private life at home, at the dinner table, in the 1950s to the middle 1960s. I found the same thing in the private moments of Iordana’s life–they’re described quite well in Red Hands. My father would always say, “Never say that in school!” Then we’d listen to the BBC and Radio Free Europe at night.
CS: What was the impact of the movie Dr. Zhivago on Eastern Bloc countries?
TS: It was bigger in Yugoslavia than in the rest of the Soviet bloc. We already had movies like that, our own Black Wave in films, critiquing the government. It got funny. Movie production companies created one edit was for film festivals outside the country, one inside the country or they would never be shown.
CS: Was godlessness in fashion in your Yugoslavia?
TS: Not really, not to that extent. My family was Orthodox Christian.
CS: Iordana is privileged, and like all of us she ducks in and out of self-knowledge. From your position just across the river, do you think of her as a character who’s strong, weak, or how would you describe her?
TS: I would say very strong. Everything she had to go through. She’s part of the Nomenclatura but sort of drops off, which makes her more interesting. It made me remember that I refused three times to join the communist party: at the end of high school, during University years, in the Yugoslav army [compulsory], which was a little hard to pull off. To stand up and say you have no interest in that. But to me the army wasn’t fighting about the fate of the nation, but only for communism, which weakened the whole idea.
CS: Romanians were nicknamed the polenta people, flexing to any attack but somehow surviving. I can see a parallel to Italy, but is there a parallel to Yugoslavia?
TS: The Romanian word for it is mamaliga. It’s a delicious dish, by the way. We were always brought up with the sense that we were the in-between country; that we were part of the east and west, being able to connect both.
CS Iordana and I were connected by our each having a son. But more like the ‘raindrops that touch us all at once, uniting us,’ we were also connected by our love for seagulls. You love the coast. You must know some gulls by name. What’s your take on seagulls?
TS: That’s a good question for me, because their number since I was a kid has been steadily and rapidly increasing. I used to draw them in flight. They’re a menace now, beautiful from a distance but frightening up close. There’s a city in Croatia where kids can’t be taken outside; the gulls will steal their lunches. More recently, when alone in nature, like during yoga, I can almost feel like I can talk to them. You know, I call them over.
What if your beloved friend brings you back from the dead, and you see nothing of any afterlife? And what if that friend is the Jewish mystic Yeshua, who will come to be known as Jesus?
Yeshua’s miracles are stirring the authorities in Jerusalem, and Lazarus finds himself scrambling after his childhood companion during Passion Week, the turbulent final chapter in Yeshua’s life. Meanwhile Lazarus struggles to return to his work and family, feeling a great sense of fragility and lost identity since his return to the living world. He can’t help but wonder if he was resurrected to save Yeshua in his time of dire need…
Richard Zimler’s impeccably researched novel draws you into to Roman-controlled Jerusalem, the Jewish communities within it and the permeating Greek cultural influences. A cast of biblical figures, from Mary and Joseph to Mary Magdalene, are restored to their Jewish roots. Jesus is presented as a mystic within the practises and traditions of ancient Judaism. Zimler brings us a fascinating and highly moving read.
Richard Zimler’s eleven novels have been translated into twenty-three languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in twelve different countries, including the UK, United States, Australia, Brazil, Italy and Portugal. Richard is Jewish and American. He grew up in New York and since 1990 has lived in Porto, Portugal with his husband.
The Lost Gospel of Lazarus was partly inspired by the death of his brother by AIDS. He would return to Richard in recurring dreams as a resurrected but deeply changed and troubled man. This was the genesis for Richard’s Lazarus. The novel was also inspired by a desire to return biblical characters to their Jewish cultural roots, and deals with how Jesus’ legacy was handled by early Christians.
A note from the Author:
My goal with The Lost Gospel of Lazarus was to create an immensely moving and insightful page-turner. I wanted to breathe new life into the New Testement story of Lazarus, turning it into a fast-paced tale of deep friendship, murderous betrayal, magical beliefs and – in the end – redemption.
The Jerusalem of this novel – and indeed of this time – is multicultural. Lazarus and Jesus (who in this book is called Yeshua), have an interesting command of Latin, Greek and Aramaic words. Zimler constructs puns and wordplay that enrich the story and reveal the close connection between the two men.
Richard identifies ancient graffiti as a key inspiration. During this time, there was graffiti on monuments and public furniture, which demonstrated regular people using language in comedic, clever, and satirical ways. To replicate this himself, Richard made lists of Greek, Latin and Aramaic words and would play with them as a poet would.
It was important for this wordplay not to become a distraction to the story. If it didn’t make sense in the context, or didn’t further the story, Richard cut it. He dislikes writing by overly-clever authors who always bring attention back to their own intelligence or sensitivity, and so was careful when using wordplay.
In Richard Zimler’s The Lost Gospel of Lazarus, Jesus – in this novel known as Yeshua – is a Jewish mystic who is presented as a bringer of revolution. He seeks to lift up the oppressed peoples in Roman Jerusalem through social uprising.
Richard tells us that presenting Jesus this way is not new; in fact, in the bible Jesus frequently defied power structures. For example, when he casts out the merchants from the temple in Matthew 21:12–13.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
However, Yeshua’s position as a revolutionary is just as important as his spiritual leadership. In The Lost Gospel of Lazarus, Yeshua is presented as having a unique relationship with Jewish faith and the ‘Palace of the Lord’. It’s these two parts of him that makes Yeshua a special and captivating figure, and also what got him into trouble in the end.
Originally published in the UK in 2020, RED HANDS by Colin W. Sargent is now out in the USA!
This historical fiction is drawn from eighty hours of unique interviews and told in Iordana’s own voice; a true-life tale that spins readers into the pleasures, excesses and horrors of late twentieth-century Europe.
Iordana is brought up with all the perks of Romania’s corrupt communist regime. She marries the eldest son of the monstrous dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, and provides him with a grandson heir…
But revolution stirs. In 1989 crowds kill anyone with the Ceasescu name. In all the blood and chaos, can Iordana keep her little son alive?
And here’s Colin himself, describing his book and the real life Iordana Ceasescu:
Heedless, headstrong, and headlong love. Who knew it would doom her country, too? Intelligent, nubile Iordana wasn’t interested in communist strategies while she enjoyed spectacular privilege – unimaginable to the 20 million souls living under the iron fist a dictatorship ruled by a murderous family she chose to marry into. But as a member of the elite Nomenclatura during Romania’s cool 1960s, she had to have her Valentin. Just as she rose in the Ceausescu clan despite her parents’ objections, so she fell when the murderous dictator and his criminal partner were taken down. “Death to the Dracu grandson” rang through the subways. An angry world chased Iordana and her son in an effort to wipe the name Ceausescu off the face of the earth. They hunted her from Bucharest to Israel to Canada to closer than you think. She escaped to the other side of the world, only to find herself branded an illegal alien in a quiet suburb on the coast of Maine.
Where to go? Where to hide? How will her son even register for school? A tiny town in America will have to do for now.
Grab a copy of Red Hands now!
It’s a quest and you are the knight, or the heroine in shining armour or bling. You need to put on your armour and your bling and keep at it. It’s not possible or realistic for some to write everyday (we have other lives too!), and sometimes it’s good to put a book down for a while and return to it with fresh eyes.
What’s most important is passion, commitment and stamina – that’s what keeps you going with a novel. And if you believe in a novel enough, you’re going to be riddled with doubt. But there should be something within you that believes in the novel, so you just keep returning to that place. Sarah finds that when a novel wants to be written, there’s something that keeps pushing her back to the blank page.
So just show up at the blank page again and again and again. And sometimes you might write, ‘I don’t know what to write’, and if you keep writing that, maybe something else will reveal itself…
In this short clip, D.D. Johnston talks about finding light in darkness while writing about the apocalypse.
He identifies a process of crisis and positive change that can be applied to the lives of individuals and to wider society. Terrible wars, revolutions and disasters sometimes result in positive change. The same is true for personal tragedy; it can cause important personal development. This isn’t necessarily to say that all crisis lead to good things (they absolutely don’t), D.D. just suggests that some difficult times can lead to better things. This sentiment is the foundation of Disnaeland, a novel which inverts dystopia and creates a utopia of sorts.
The Silk Pavilion opens with a disturbing dream. It is the first of many throughout the novel. In this clip, Sarah Walton talks about the inclusion of dreams, and how to avoid the pitfalls of this controversial literary device.
Sarah is personally interested in dreams. She has trained in Tibetan Buddhist meditation and undertaken a lucid dreaming course. As she takes value from dreams in real life, it’s no surprise that she believes dreams can be powerful tools in novels.
For Sarah, dreams are a place where the hidden parts of our psyche can emerge from the shadows. In The Silk Pavilion, they’re opportunities for analysis. The protagonist Lucy is an active explorer of her own mind, and the mystery afoot is central to the story: why does she choose to be with Miguel, an unpleasant, abusive man. The dreams reveal that Lucy still confuses abuse and love, and this is rooted in repressed memories from her early childhood. Her dreams bring the darkest parts of her into the light. Another benefit of these dreams are that they’re great for establishing a sense of foreboding regarding Lucy’s trauma.
Dreams also allowed Sarah to make Karl Jung a real character. He was interested in the hidden value of dreams himself and so dispenses his wisdom to Lucy – ‘When an inner situation is not made conscious it happens outside as fate’ – it is a distinctive, meta moment in The Silk Pavilion, because this quote is at the start of the book.
Sarah wrote the dream sequences of The Silk Pavilion with apprehension; her editor does not easily accept dreams in novels. There was a subsequent back-and-forth, where some dreams were cut or the nature of them were altered.
Richard Zimler explores the intimate relationship of Jesus and Lazarus in his novel The Lost Gospel of Lazarus.
In the clip, Richard tells us that the relationship between Jesus (who in this book is the Jewish mystic Yeshua) and Lazarus is many things; it’s homoerotic and romantic in some ways, in other ways it’s divine and metaphysical, and in others it’s a simple, cherished childhood friendship. It doesn’t have clear boundaries, and this reflects the nature of social relationships during this period. It is not easy to define Yeshua and Lazarus’ relationship, and that is part of its richness and beauty.
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