Credit: Freepik

Debut Novel About Jewish Woman Imprisoned In Soviet Gulag Becomes Czech Book of the Year

The novel ‘Hella’, a literary debut by Russian studies scholar and writer Alena Machoninova, telling the story of Czech Jewish woman Helena Frischerova (1906–1984), who spent ten years in a Soviet gulag, received the Magnesia Litera 2022 prize for Book of the Year last night.

In her winning book, combining biography with fiction, the author reflects on the wider context, Russia’s past and present, the relationship between literature and reality, and her own journey towards the personality of Frischerova. It was originally said that Hella had been executed along with her husband during the Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union. However, a few years ago, it was revealed that she had spent ten years in a Gulag forced labour camp before being released, and subsequently lived in Moscow until her death in 1984.

The Book of the Year is traditionally chosen by representatives of Czech literary circles.

The organisers presented prizes in a dozen categories at the New Stage of the National Theatre last night, such as the best prose and poetry books, non-fiction, fiction, children’s book, the best translation, and last year’s established prize for contribution to literary culture. It was awarded to poet Tomas T. Kus for promoting Czech slam poetry and encouraging and popularising literature.

The award for journalistic work went to philosopher Tereza Matejckova’s provocative book ‘God is Dead, Nothing is Allowed’, which includes essays written for the Echo Weekly in 2022 and 2023, dealing with topics such as podcasts, the #MeToo movement, absentee fathers, and technological attempts to achieve immortality.

Magnesia Litera awards in the popular genre categories, such as crime fiction, fantasy and humour, were this year awarded as part of the main ceremony for the first time.

According to the Litera organising association, the purpose of the annual book awards is to promote high-quality literature and good books without restrictions and regardless of genres. Writers, poets, translators, publishers and scholars and theorists deserve equal attention, the organisers say.

The Book of the Year and winners of other categories are selected by people from the book industry, from academics to librarians and booksellers. The Magnesia Litera Literary Award has been presented in the Czech Republic annually since 2002.

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