Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968
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Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  761 ratings  ·  69 reviews
A memoir of the author who describes the lives caught up in Czechoslovakia's tragic fate under the Nazis. It also illuminates the chaotic life of a nation during the Stalin era.
Paperback, 192 pages
Published January 15th 1997 by Holmes & Meier Publishers (first published 1986)
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Community Reviews

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During the last few days I have been reading Under A Cruel Star. Tom, one of my GR friends, brought to my attention that the author, in her nineties, had recently died. I had the book sitting there on my shelf and memoirs always attract me. I needed a good book after having been so disappointed by the last book I had read, Buddha's Orphans. Opening it I wondered, what would this book give me? You never really know by simply reading the blurb describing the book, as Buddha's Orphans ma...more
La Petite Américaine
**I'm only adding this review because it's going to bug me if I don't. This book had me creating a new shelf: "Conflicted".**

This is a well-written memoir and it provides an unnerving glimpse of the life of a woman who survived two of the greatest tragedies of the last century: the Holocaust and Communism.

The first time I read this book I loved it beyond words. Yet, something always tugged at me a little, something I couldn't articulate until I read it a few more times.

Much like with Even Silen...more
Narración autobiográfica de los horrores del Fascismo y el Comunismo que sufrió la población checa. Dolorosa y brutal, no duda en ofrecernos todo el sufrimiento, la violencia y la destrucción innata a ambos modelos.
Las personas que están dispuestas a sacrificar su propio bienestar por un noble idea probablemente acabarán exigiéndoles un sacrificio parecido a otros no tan dispuestos a hacerlo. Un sistema político que no puede funcionar sin mártires es un sistema político malo y destructivo.

Heda Margolius Kovaly observó cómo los alemanes invadían su Checoslovaquia natal y mataban a toda su familia por su condición racial, obligándole a esconderse para sobrevivir; cómo el gobierno comunista de su propio país...more
Dita Murinová
Skvělý příběh, který by byl o moc lepší, kdyby byl jen vymyšelný. Představa že tohle všechno se jednou stalo, mi asi dneska nedá spát. Každopádně moc hezky napsáno a pro někoho jako jsem já (člověk, který toho bohužel o naší historii moc neví) úžasný náhled do těch hrůz, které se děly. Doporučuji :)
Ivánek, Rudolf, Pavel a Heda, ti všichni mi včera nedali spát. Pro někoho,kdo, i když se za to šíleně stydí, o historii své země neví zrovna moc, znamenala takhle knížka víc, než jenom poohlédnutí...more
My mother was equal halves Irish and Czech. The Irish side was talked about more within the family, but I recently learned my great-great-grandparents came to America from Austro-Hungary in 1867. Why? Where did they enter America? What was life like in Cuba, Kansas for Bohemian immigrants...? As they say 'Youth is wasted on the young', I never thought to ask these questions and now it's too late.

I am now relying on books to help quench my desire to learn more about the Czech Republic (Austria-Hu...more
Do not read this book in public. I read it on the plane ride back from Italy over spring break and had to work hard to keep myself from bawling out load and freaking out the other passengers. This a is phenomenal personal memoir about the human and political experience of a Jewish girl at the tail end of WWII and the beginning of the Communist rule in Prague. It was poignant and very educational in a nonacademic way. This book made me understand the human condition that existed in Czech that ena...more
Feb 03, 2013 Adrian added it
Recommended by T. Judt. Excellent short volume by Czech Jew who recounts her life from deportation from Prague by Nazis- she escaped while on the way to concentration camp- until her escape from Prague in 1968 after Soviet invasion. During the years in between her husband Rudolf reached the post of Deputy Minister of Trade was accused of treason in 1952, convicted and hanged. Author lost job, house and health and suffered life as a pariah until thaw of early 1960s. This was when Rudolf was exone...more
I had never heard of Heda Kovaly prior to finding this book in my local Oxfam Bookshop.However, after reading the blurb, I was very keen to know more.
We are all aware of the countless atrocities that took place during the holocaust, but at times Mrs Kovaly's firsthand account seems unbelievable in its graphic portrayal of events and reads almost like a harrowing novel.
However,the events are real and not only did Mrs Kovaly endure persecution as a Jew during the Second World War, she was also ca...more
Feb 02, 2008 Hannah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history
Recommended to Hannah by: required class reading
This is a great historical book with a lot of heart behind it. Heda Kovaly writes her autobiography about the years of her life in which she survived a concentration camp and Stalinist communism in her country. Her story is fascinating and heartfelt without crossing over into sappy territory. It gives a very in-depth look at what everyday life was like under these circumstances as well as exploring the ideologies and attitudes that lead to these situations.
After having read so many books for classes in the past, I didn't have high hopes for this one. However, I was actually wrong. Not only did I learn more about communism/socialism than I'd ever known previously, but I was also able to enjoy a beautifully-written memoir. One of my favorite quotes was the very first paragraph or so of the book: "I carry the past inside me folded up like an accordion, like a book of picture post cards that people bring home as souvenirs from foreign cities, small an...more
"Tři síly ztvárnily krajinu mého života. První dvě rozdrtily polovinu světa. Ta třetí byla docela nepatrná a dokonce neviditelná: bylo to male tiché ptáče, které se uhnízdilo v mém hrudním koši kousek nad pátým žebrem. Čas od času, obyčejně v těch nejneočekávanějších chvílích se ptáče probudilo, zvedlo hlavu a zatřepotalo křídly jako u vytržení. A tehdy jsem I já zdvihla hlavu, protože na ten prchavý okamžik mne pokaždé pronikla naprostá jistota, že láska a naděje zmohou nekonečně víc než nenávi...more
This memoir gives the personal experiences of a woman who spent much of her adult life enslaved by the two most destructive politic forces of the 20th Century, Fascism and Communism. It is filled with tragedy as well as lessons which all people and nations must not forget. I would recommend this book to anyone, but particularly to individuals interested in daily life in a communist country.
4.5 stars

Anyone wanting to read more about communism imposed in Czech Republic should read this! It’s a wonderful, heart wrenching story about how people survive the worst acts of humanity. More professors and teacher should be using this book alongside Anne Frank to teach students about WWII and what came after.
Arturo Trafny
my brother and i registered for a history class together. We both love history and read and watch films about it ask the time. however i have always found it hard to get into an assigned book for a class for some reason. this is the first book that completely captured my attention as a required reading. I read it in its entirety in a day and a half with work and school mixed in. right from the opening chapter (spoiler alert: a great escape) it was captivating and the story was so moving. a must...more
Thomas Paul
As good as this book is, it could have been much better. Kovaly has a fascinating story to tell but too much of her story tells how this happened and then that happened without enough analysis or explanation. Kovaly lived through Hitler and Stalin and she has an amazing story to tell.

The book starts with the deportation of the Jews from Prague, where Kovaly lived, to the ghetto of Lodz in Poland. She describes the horrors and the death she encountered there. She then skips ahead to the last conc...more
This book read quickly and easily. Having read other books about genocide, political repression, tyranny, I was personally a bit disappointed at the lack of in-depth characterization. However, this is assigned reading for a college-level history course (for one of the student workers in my office), so it shouldn't be too "painful" for the younger folks to read. :) I could appreciate the way it described the common citizenry's push for an idealistic solution (Marxism/Communism) in the aftermath o...more
This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read recently. It follows the life of the author, a Jewish woman living in Prague, from the Nazi era through the unsuccessful uprising against Soviet rule in 1968. Her vantage point as an escapee from Auschwitz and later as the wife of a communist official who was arrested and executed in a 1951-52 purge gives her a unique perspective on Czech history during these years. But the most fascinating aspect of the book is its exploration of how t...more
Přežít koncentrační tábor, aby si pak mohla prožít na vlastní kůži politický proces padesátých let, což snad bylo ještě horší. Naděje šedesátých let zabitá sovětskou invazí. Hodně depresivní, přesto bez sebelítosti. Krátké a čtivé.

Důležité memento pro budoucí generace, reflexe pro pamětníky. Nesmíme zapomenout!

Celý život jsem dělal stranického funkcionáře, a teď abych si hledal práci?

Když u nás na vesnici zloděj ukradl husu, zapíral do poslední chvíle, i když ho třeba chyti...more
Nathalie Hourihan
I picked up this short memoir a week ago in Prague and devoured it as if it were a thriller. In a way, it was. Somewhat over-read on the topic of the holocaust, I didn't think I had room for more ... but this isn't a book about the camps even if the story starts there.

Clive James is quoted on the back with the statement, "Given thirty seconds to recommend a book to start a student on the road to understanding political tragedies of the 20th century ... I would choose this one." I second that. I...more
Amel Omari
An absolutely inspiring life story. Kovaly has made it through the worst experiences a human could imagine. Having survived a concentration camp during the second World War, she escapes from a death march and makes it back to her hometown, Prague. There, nearly everyone she knew rejects her pleas for help, too concerned about their own possible punishment for harboring a Jewish woman to care for their suffering friend. Surviving this as well, she lives to see her dreams of a Czechoslovakia under...more
Kovaly’s account of her life in Prague is nothing short of the compelling truth. She states the many, many ordeals she and her friends endured under the Germans, the Russians and her own Czech government with simple straightforwardness while impressing upon the reader the horror of living under totalitarian police states. From the rise of the Nazis and the forcible transfer of her family first to a ghetto and then to concentration camps – which she and three other woman escaped from together – t...more
Amy Price
Beautifully written "intimate political memoir"

Writing a review of a book whose author has a strong belief in the power of words is rather intimidating. All I can say is that I feel changed as a person having read this book. Somehow Mrs. Kovaly shares her experiences of brutal inhumanity and personal suffering with grace, completely absent of self pity. She speaks with such honesty, power, and strength. A must read for anyone who wants to gain understanding about one of our world's darkest perio...more
Emily Medakovich
I had to read this memoir for one of my classes this semester. The author was a witness to many of the major European events of the 20th century from being a Holocaust survivor to witnessing the beginning of communist rule in Eastern Europe to witnessing Prague Spring. Since many of these events are related to my minor, it was interesting to read about them on a more personal level rather than a strictly academic level. I only had two problems with this memoir. First, in the process of translati...more
James R.
Good book, about life in Prague Czechoslovakia from 1941 to 1968. Every American student should read this book.
I love her description of Communist Leaders: "The most respected Party Members were the professional revolutionaries, people who had never in their life perkormed any useful work, but who had never missed a meeting or strike. They also knew how to address a crowd in WORDS AND TONES that would carry them, when the time came, to the highest positions in the government." Remind you of anyo...more
This is one of the most haunting and beautiful memoirs I have ever read. Kovaly opens her story with her escape from the Nazi death march towards Auscwitz. She literally runs all the way back to Prague. You would think that the worst would be over. Not true. She struggles to survive and maintain her human dignity through the terror that Prague endured during Stalin's purges as neighbors, friends and family members betrayed eachother in hopes of securing their own survival. I won't give away any...more
Shane Avery
This is a memoir written by a Czechoslovak Jewish woman who lived in Prague under both Nazi and Soviet occupation. It was assigned reading for HST 112: European history from Napoleon to the present. I'm generally not a fan of memoirs, but Heda Margolius Kovaly expresses ideas about politics in a meaningful way. She also has some astute observations to make on the psychology of a people who live under totalitarian regimes -- both those suffering from them and those participating in them -- partic...more
Carmen Pulín
Extraordinario. Uno de los mejores libros que he leído en mi vida.

No es "un libro más" sobre el nazismo y el comunismo. Cada una de las víctimas de los totalitarismos es un ser humano, independiente, con su propia historia, que debe ser contada. Sólo dándonos cuenta de que no son números, sino individuos, con una historia propia que se vio truncada por los verdugos, podremos empezar a comprender la enormidad de lo ocurrido.

El ser humano olvida pronto, y hoy hay quien desea que vuelvan esos tie...more
This book is good, but as another reviewer commented, it could have been much better. Despite the horrors, the challenges, the injustices, and the utter cruelty the author encountered and describes the book seems to lack emotion and analysis. I recently visited Prague, and it is extremely difficult to reconcile the beautiful city one sees today with the nightmarish city Kovaly knew and described. This book, although flawed, reminds us of the history that led up to the heavily touristed city we s...more
I thought this was more about the Holocaust but it turned out to be more about the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, which, a few years after the author and her husband survived the Nazis, managed to hang her husband on spurious charges and deny her jobs and basic necessities for years. Very interesting inside view of the developing Communist government, how many were idealistic in the beginning and then what happened as things went horribly wrong. Heart-wrenching to think this poor woman had...more
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