Czech presses release new book by the late Olga Fečová, “Never Enough Time in the Day: Memoir of a proud Romani woman”

The KHER press is releasing a memoir by the late renowned storyteller Olga Fečová, who was respected by Romani society and appreciated for her altruistic activities by the majority society as well, the best proof of which is that the Czech Senate nominated her for state honors in 2020. The book, Den byl pro mě krátkej: Paměti hrdé Romky (“Never Enough Time in the Day: Memoir of a proud Romani woman”) is an extraordinary Czech literary event of 2022.

Twenty-five years after the publication of Elena Lacková’s memoir, which became a cult classic, Narodila jsem se pod šťastnou hvězdou (published in English as A False Dawn), another autobiographical title by a respected Romani figure is finally being released. Fečová captures the idiosyncratic inhabitants of a disappeared world, one of Romani settlements where life was lived traditionally, of tenement houses with balcony hallways in the Old Town of Prague, of “colonies” housing the working class, and sincerely shares her life experience and opinions about it all.

“We knew Olga as a brilliant storyteller who had mastered the art of capturing listeners’ attentions to such an extent that they would forget all about what time it was. When she gave us her memoir to read, we didn’t hesitate,” KHER editor Lenka Jandáková, who prepared the book for publication together with Jana Habrovcová, told news server Romea.cz.

The director of KHER, Radka Patočková, points out that this is the first title they have offered to co-edit with another publisher, the prestigious Paseka publishing house. “When their Editor-in-Chief Jakub Sedláček read the manuscript and agreed we would publish the book jointly, our suspicions were confirmed that Olga Fečová’s memoir is able to captivate a broad spectrum of readers,” she told news server Romea.cz.

Jáchym Topol, the journalist, musician, poet and prose writer, has also expressed his appreciation for the memoir. “The author Olga Fečová, in her fascinating chronicle, guides the reader through the mountains of Slovakia and the tenements of Prague. Her descriptions bring to life both absolutely ordinary people and figures of renown. She never denies that she comes from a family of musicians: She tells her story with the same bravura that others use to make a violin sing,” Topol has written.

Olga Fečová (1942–2022) was born during the Second World War in a Romani settlement near Humenné in what was at that time the Slovak State, but she grew up in a reconstituted Czechoslovakia, in the center of Prague during Stalinism. She and her mother used to light the gas-fired streetlamps on the Charles Bridge, and she also assisted her father with running a newspaper stand; at the age of 17 she went to work in a glassworks in the borderland.

Her birth family was among the first immigrants who came to Bohemia after the Second World War looking for work. In her memoir, the contours of the little-known history of Romani people in the Czechoslovak space come into view based on her experiences.

Fečová’s story reveals the diligence and determination to integrate that those who arrived in Czech cities at that time – an environment unfamiliar to them – had to show. The difficulties that she encountered on the way to achieving better conditions for Romani children is something to which she has not paid much attention in the book.

“An amazing book. I have to quote Václav Havel: ‘Life is a joyful participation in the miracle of being’, even if from time to time it takes place behind the scenes in darkness. Olga Fečová, of course, manages to illuminate such spaces with hope,” Fedor Gál says of the book.

As a little girl she experienced the community of her extended family and the atmosphere of gatherings where music was played and stories were told during their visits back to eastern Slovakia. She also acquired some healing practices from the Romani school of such skills and, above all, she absorbed the traditions and values of her ancestors, following them all her life and passing them on to others, whether as an assistant teacher at the Nusle Primary School in Prague, or as the head of the children’s musical ensemble Čhavorikaňi luma (“Children’s World” in Romanes) which she established in the 1990s with her daughters and her husband, the legendary musician Jozef Fečo.

Fečová also guided adults toward getting an education and taking pride in their culture as Romani people. She pursued the emancipation of Romani women and set an example for others herself in that regard.

At the age of 60 she got her first driver’s license, graduated from secondary school at the age of 65, and began to paint and write literature. She was given the Roma Spirit award in 2016 for her lifelong work to benefit Romani society.

Ida Kelarová remembers Fečová as a principled woman with inexhaustible energy and recalls the influence she had on others. “Madame Olga was an amazing artist, educator, and last but not least, a beautiful person. This icon of the Romani world set an example for us all, and her book has a message to deliver for generations to come, both to the Roma and the non-Roma,” Kelarová said.

The publication also includes unique photographs from the author’s archive and an epilogue by Zbyněk Andrš that clearly contextualizes the history of Romani people in Czechoslovakia. The director of the Museum of Romani Culture, Jana Horváthová, wrote the introduction.

Horváthová recalls that Fečová had hoped to live a hundred years in order to realize all of her personal ambitions and plans. “She wanted to receive her own memoir as a gift on her 80th birthday. Unfortunately, she did not live that long. However, she remained faithful to herself to the end – and as was typical of her, she still has something to give to all the rest of us,” Horváthová says.

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