Friday 23 January 2009

The name of the rose

Readers of my first novel A Season of Leaves will know that the main thrust of the story is based on my great auntie Ginge’s extraordinary experiences during and after the Second World War. (She met a Czech soldier while working as a Land Girl and followed him to Prague once peace was declared, only to escape from the Communist regime within a few years.)
But during the writing of the novel, I was also inspired by another story, that of Eva Melichar, a Czech lady who also escaped Prague with her husband and child in the late forties. She told me how they put their trust in a complete stranger they were told to meet on the edge of wood, who would lead them through the vast countryside, and across the border. They lived in a series of refugee camps before finally coming to settle in the safety of England.
I interviewed Eva in the summer of 2006, to hear her amazing story: how, while still in Prague, her husband disappeared one day while he was fixing their door bell; how he was imprisoned and tortured; how his foot was broken by Red Guards stamping on it and how they eventually released him.
In A Season of Leaves I based my character Rose’s lover Krystof’s experience on this traumatic episode, and Eva helped me with the Czech language that I used in the book; the translation of Rose’s name into Ruzena.
Last week, I had the sad news of Eva’s death, at the age of 86. Her daughter described her as quietly courageous, curious and enthusiastic about the world, and I’d like to express my gratitude to Eva once more for the time she spent with me, her kindness and her hospitality. And her enthusiasm for my little project, which eventually became the realisation of my dream.
It was only when I heard that she’d died that I learned that her full name was Ruzena Eva Melichar; her name was Rose. It seems so fitting that this dignified lady had let the co-incidence drift by as just one more of those wonderfully wistful but thought-provoking mysteries of life.

No comments: