Border Crossings:
Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance
by Charles Novacek Ten21 Press

"I became delirious; yet it was a blessing in disguise, for in my delirium I became indifferent, and disengaged from stress and terror."

The reality of totalitarianism is not as strong in the United States as it is in Eastern Europe. From the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 to its ruin in 1990, abuses and its antithesis, bravery has crept in the consciousness of Eastern Europeans. These experiences have become an important fragment of their history from which, war and resistance narratives spring and are now being told from one generation to the next.

Border Crossings recounts the life of Charles Novacek and his family as they struggle for their survival during World War II and the ensuing Cold War. It personifies nationalistic defiance displayed by members of the resistance movement in the then Czechoslovakia. It also provides a human face to the alleged abuses by repressive communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the early 90s. The book elevates the "personal is political" dictum as Novacek arrives at a personal realization of his country's grim situation. This paves the way for other Czechs' realization of the need for a political action.

The book starts by providing readers some background on the nonconformist spirit that runs in Novacek's family. The author's father, Antonin, is a Czech who married a Hungarian. Their union and ethnic differences incited anger and displeasure from Czechs in the discrimination-ripe 1920s. Antonin was a police officer, and as a state employee, his supervisors and their wives maintained a dose of influence on his position and work assignments. This was evident on his transfer from the prestigious Brusno Kupele to the backwoods of Hrachovo where the author's first encounter with the horror of the war took place.

The fullness of horror in Novacek's life has to wait until his unexpected capture in Prague due to a hunch by a member of the Committee for State Security (KGB) that he is a part of the Czech Resistance Movement. From the chapters that discuss the author's arrest to his and co-guerrilla Mirek's border crossing, readers are introduced into a different experience: intense, crippling, and moving. This series of events is consuming, it has a torturous effect to the imagination gripping readers to consume every word, phrase, and sentence that comprises the central fifty-two pages of the book.

The sway of the book, however, is not limited to the detailed description of gruesome events and the thrill of seeing the protagonists outsmarting the antagonists (Red Army) during a very clever rescue operation. It is also a story of hope and determination to beat all odds. While very fluent in at least six languages, Novacek could barely speak English when he came to the United States. His weak English vocabulary, however, did not stop him from pursuing a civil engineering career and becoming a registered professional engineer in Michigan. This is a reminder that determination and passion are two powerful forces that may turn impossible events into fulfilling and exhilarating experiences.

Border Crossings is a dark masterpiece. Technically, it is an enjoyable read given its existential horror aspects, but knowing it's nonfiction—a real experience of real people—makes it a painful read. The plot strikes at the basic of humanity and how it is to be human and deprived of free will. The book is melancholic and yet, paradoxically, it is like a dark tunnel emitting some light of hope from the other end. And Novacek, in the midst of that terrifying darkness, held on to that light flickering miles of borders away from the then Czechoslovakia. Poets, novelists, filmmakers, historians, researchers, educators, and everyone interested in human plights will find this an interesting read.

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