Ludvik Vaculik, one of the Czech Republic's most popular authors, has a new book out, "Polepsene pesnicky," or "Improved Folk Songs." It's an absolutely unique volume, complete with a CD featuring Ludvik Vaculik singing his favorite Moravian songs. Those who know him are aware that music and folk songs are vitally important to Ludvik Vaculik, and now readers have a chance to gain an insight into how song has helped shape the identity of an author known for his very outspoken nature.
The volume, "Polepsene pesnicky" has been long in the making. Jaroslava Jiskrova, who published the book and has worked with Ludvik Vaculik as an editor since the 1990s, explains how the idea for this particular work came about back in 2002:
"By chance, Ludvik Vaculik wrote a very nice piece that appeared in Literarni Noviny. He calls it a journalistic essay, about how he and his wife went to the Brumov region of southern Moravia and looked for the places and villages that are sung about in folk songs. They met with people who live there, and sought to uncover the reality of that corner of the country. This essay was absolutely beautiful, and I realized that Vaculik has it in him to write a book about singing, and about folk songs. In effect, I gave him this task and I told him to exhaust the theme of songs in his own life."
"Polepsene pesnicky" is filled with explanations of how particular songs have traveled with Ludvik Vaculik throughout his life. The volume brings Moravian folk songs to life, and also includes many photographs with Vaculik, his family and friends, all singing and clearly enjoying one another's company. So how did Ludvik Vaculik react to being asked to write it all down? Jaroslava Jiskrova again:
"The idea finally crystallized in 2003 and Ludvik Vaculik sat down and wrote for a year - he was very taken with the project. I have to say, he's not used to accepting other people's inspirations and ideas when it comes to his writing, but this was so close to his heart that he just adopted the idea as his own. His work was very focused, and I remember that the writing gave him great pleasure. However, I still had this essay in my mind, and I measured everything against this earlier piece. When Vaculik gave me the first version, it wasn't quite what I had in mind, so I returned it to him and asked that he re-write it. At first he was a bit upset about this, and told everyone I'd rejected the text. But then he actually sat down and worked on it again, and the result is much better."
Perfection seemed elusive since Vaculik took the liberty of 'improving' various folk songs, and at one point the work seemed to have no end. Jaroslava Jiskrova told me about how she finally managed to get the text away from Vaculik, and to the presses:
"Then as the text kept evolving, and there were additions to the songs, Vaculik had a need to fill every small space. He also had the feeling that he'd left many things unexplained, and that's actually true. In the end, we had to make a drastic move this past summer. Madla Vaculikova, Vaculik's wife, told me to take the text away from him, because he's capable of ruining the entire thing by making so many changes. So we declared the revisions complete, and I told Vaculik that he should save all of his thoughts for another book, for a second volume. Of course we said it jokingly, but anything is possible."
"When I hear Vaculik read from the text now, and sing everything he wrote down, I'm very happy because this book has a dimension that I was aware of, but I didn't realize exactly how effective it would be. I have the feeling that Ludvik Vaculik really wrote a fun book, in the best sense of the word. He can bring joy to many people and entertain them with this book, and I think that he loves to be able to do just that."
Ludvik Vaculik already has a following of Moravian folk song enthusiasts, a group that calls itself 'Wlastenci,' or 'Patriots.' They meet regularly, bound by a love of song and wine, or slivovice, and lately the Wlastenci have also been helping to introduce Vaculik's new book to the public.
And why is an entire 245-page volume devoted to songs from a small corner of southeast Moravia? Because this is a very personal book, and Ludvik Vaculik has never lost sight of where he came from - a long-time resident of Prague, his heart belongs to Brumov. It is where he wants his final resting place to be (the burial plot is already bought) and for so long as he's alive, Ludvik Vaculik will continue to probe the details of the region where he grew up. Jaroslava Jiskrova sums up Ludvik Vaculik's identity:
"I think that he's a Wallachian, a Moravian, in body and soul. He writes about this in every one of his books. It is of course a theme present in this book, "Polepsene pesnicky," but for example it's also visible in all the documentary films that Bretislav Rychlik taped with Ludvik Vaculik, the series called 'The Wallachian Dreamer.' He's always returning to his roots, to Brumov, and he keeps looking for fragments of that world, of his own identity. It's something that Madla Vaculikova and I talk about often: the fact that Ludvik Vaculik is actually documenting a particular world that is nearly forgotten today, and he's making it complete again. It's less and less a mosaic of some sort, and more and more a full picture of this corner of Moravia that is gaining value. And I'm convinced that it will be even more valuable as time passes."
If an identity remains preserved for the Wallachians, Ludvik Vaculik will
have no small role to play in that fact.
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