The Best of All Worlds

By Irena Brežná

In a humorous and poetic way, the adolescent protagonist narrates her rather absurd life in a small Central Eastern European town in the 1950s. While her mother disappears into prison, the girl, torn between family and school, seeks her own way. The myth of the socialist hero seems more attractive than her grandmother’s Catholicism or the middle-class, bourgeois life of her father, who is sent to work in bridge construction as a form of proletarian reeducation. Only her brother remains and, with him, the daily threat of physical violence. The girl, who wants to become a heroine one day, develops great powers of survival, despite her tragic circumstances. Her grandfather’s natural mysticism emerges as a refuge, as well as her own sensuality and enthusiasm for change of any kind. The incisively described background events, focused observations and fragmented associative memories provide one with an intimate insight into the ambience of society at the time and have general human significance as well. The narration is carried forward with liberating ease, made possible by the geographical and chronological distance of the author – the “happy dictatorship of the Proletariat” is over, as if it were all a dream, but one whose effects live on in “the heart of the albatross”.

Irena Brežná, (born in 1950 in Czechoslovakia) emigrated in 1968 to Switzerland and has lived in Basel ever since. She is a journalist, writer, academic in Slavonic Studies, psychologist and human rights activist. She wrote her autobiographical novel in German and it was published in 2008 by Edition Ebersbach Berlin, then translated into Slovak and published by Aspekt publishing house under the title Na slepačích krídlach.

In 2010 Brežná published her novel ”Schuppenhaut” (Scaly Skin). She has received numerous awards for her work, including Switzerland’s Federal Literary Prize for the novel The Thankless Stranger, the EMMA journalism award and the Theodor Wolff Prize for her war reporting from Chechnya.

“The Best of All Worlds” was on the SWR Best Books List in 2008. It was recommended by FAZ journalist Hubert Spiegel in the Börsenblatt Best List. The literary critic Gabriele von Arnim recommended the book in Literaturclub SF1 on 20 April 2009.