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Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968

Heda Margolius Kovály, translated by Franci Epstein and Helen Epstein with the author
Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968
ISBN: 978-0-8419-1377-6
1997/192 pages/LC: 96054710
Distributed for Holmes & Meier Publishers
"A tragic story told with aplomb, humor and tenderness."—Publishers Weekly

"A story of the human spirit at its most indomitable .... One of the outstanding autobiographies of the century."—San Francisco Chronicle-Examiner

"Once in a rare while we read a book that puts the urgencies of our times and ourselves in perspective.... That has just happened to me. In telling her story—simply, without self-pity—[Mrs. Kovály] illuminates some general truths of human behavior."—Anthony Lewis, New York Times

"Kovály's attention to the world’s beauty, even while in hell, is so brazen as to take my breath away."—E.J. Graff, Columbia Journalism Review

"[This is a book that] should never have had to be written; but since it had, we are lucky that it was done so well."—Clive James, Cultural Amnesia

"A wonderfully expressive writer.... Kovály's reflections on her personal experiences reveal a high degree of insight into politics, individual and institutional behavior, and the formation of attitudes."—Christian Science Monitor

"An extraordinary memoir.... It is impossible to read her book without the deepest admiration for her quiet, fierce documentation of the ordeal of the Czech people in our time."—Alfred Kazin


Heda Margolius Kovály (1919–2010) endured both the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and the brutality of Czechoslovakia's postwar Stalinist government. Her husband, after surviving Dachau and Auschwitz and becoming Czechoslovakia's deputy minister of foreign trade, was convicted of conspiracy in the infamous 1952 Slansky trial and then executed. This clear-eyed memoir of her life during those horrific days is resonant with lyricism, managing somehow to be heartening even as it helps us to understand the political tragedies of the twentieth century.
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