Adventure, Escape, Survival in Czechoslovakia




             National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library | 1400 Inspiration Place SW                                                    Cedar Rapids, IA 52404 | 319.362.8500

BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance


                     A memoir by Charles Novacek

          Published and presented by Sandra Novacek                               A book signing by Sandra will follow the                              presentation, Part of the NCSML’s Author Series                           Thursday, September 4 at 7:00 p.m.                       Hemphill Theater at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Place SW Cedar Rapids, IA 52404

Charles Novacek was 11 years old when his father and uncle recruited him into the Czech Resistance during WWII. Antonin Novacek not only taught his son to survive in the wild, but also prepared him for wartime: how to resist pain, hunger, and fear – and to trust no one. His assignments included delivering messages to soldiers parachuting behind enemy lines and hiding them in caves equipped for their shelter.
As a young man, Charles was captured and jailed by the Communists and rescued by and underground resistance network. In too much danger to remain in Czechoslovakia, he staged a daring escape, only to land in a miserable camp for displaced persons. His will to live prevailed once again, and Charles eventually married and built a life in America. 
Filled with heroic adventures and bravery, Border Crossings is one man’s remarkable tale of his incredible life and a testament to the human capacity to survive. Born in Ozdany, Czechoslovakia in 1928, Charles Novacek immigrated to the United States in 1956 and became a successful engineer. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Charles was an artist and lifelong learner. He died in Detroit, Michigan in 2007. His memoir was published by his wife, Sandra Novacek.
Border Crossings has been a finalist or winner of 14 book awards, including a Midwest Book Awards Gold Medal for Autobiography/Memoir, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards, First Place for Life Stories, and an Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Award for World History. 
The Great Stories Author Series is generously sponsored by CRST.

So Little Time + Too Many Books = Tsundoku

tsundoku1As my time spent promoting Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance increases, my time spent reading decreases. But, alas, my appetite for buying new books continues! The result is tsundoku, a strange and lovely Japanese expression so apropos for my situation!

tsundoku  積ん読 noun

: a Japanese word constructed from two verbs tsumu to pile up, and toku (pronounced doku) to read.  In other words: buying books, not reading them and allowing them to pile up on a shelf or floor or next to your bed!

Not sure if there’s a cure. . .

Detroiter’s Book and Art Feature of Scarab Club Event

scarabclubscarabbckroj3 bcwarrenplsandycrnewsletter




DETROIT — Join librarian, publisher Sandra Novacek at Detroit’s historic Scarab Club on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 6:00 p.m., for an illustrated talk on the story of her late husband Charles Novacek’s life as told in his award-winning memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.

Endorsed by Madeleine Albright, the firsthand account describes the impact of World War II and the Cold War on a Czechoslovakian boy (Charles) who participated in the Czech Resistance against the Nazis and the Communists, from age 11 to 20. After escaping his homeland, Novacek fled to Germany, then Venezuela and finally immigrated to the United States and Detroit.

Sandra will show vintage family photos and give details of the dangers her husband faced in the resistance. She’ll explain how art played an important role in Charles’ life during wartime and how his dream of becoming an artist was shattered when Hitler closed Czechoslovakia’s art schools.

The event will be enhanced by an exhibit of Charles Novacek’s paintings from age 13 to 75. Also on display will be a collaborative mixed media piece by Czech American artist, Sonya Darrow inspired by Charles Novacek’s life. The artist created a piece that tells his story while connecting to traditional forms of Czech folk art: embroidery and folk motifs.  Sonya chose a technique that connects to another layer of Novacek’s story; travel documents used from border to border.  The process is a paper transfer to canvas. The art piece opens a dialogue on Czech culture and a piece of important history told by Charles.

In addition, a selection of vintage Czech and Slovak embroidered folk costumes (kroj) from the collection of Jan Letowski will be exhibited.  Jan is an independent researcher, consultant and curator of European ethnographic dress. He holds an M.A. in Museum Studies from the George Washington University in Washington, DC. He lectures on the history and function of clothing in traditional societies, namely of Eastern Europe, and collects ethnographic material related to his research. His emphasis is on preservation and on increasing the awareness of the value of folk dress to the study of history and art.

The evening will conclude with a book signing and reception with Czech apple strudel and beverages. The event is free and books will be available for sale.

For information contact Sandra Novacek at 313.832.1148 or Treena Flannery Ericson at 313.831.1250. The Scarab Club is located at 217 Farnsworth, Detroit, MI 48202 just east of the Detroit Institute of Arts.


I Love to Speak to Book Clubs! Please Invite Me to Your Meeting

Joie de Livres, the Theatre Arts of Detroit  book club enjoyed the story behind the story on BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance when Sandra Novacek attended one of their  meetings.

 Joie de Livres, the Theatre Arts of Detroit’s Book Club enjoyed the story          behind the story of BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech  Resistance when Sandra Novacek attended their meeting.

bcsandynovacekembassycr400I am Sandra Novacek, Charles Novacek’s widow and I’d love to visit your book club meeting – in person, by phone or even Skype – to answer questions about Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance – the history behind the book and/or the publishing process, or anything else that interests you. I can bring photos and artifacts even samples of Charles’ art work if you’d like.

The book, a firsthand account, is part history, part love story and reads like a suspense novel in part. It describes the impact of World War II and the Cold War on Karel (Charles) Novacek, a Czechoslovakian boy who actively participated with his family in the Czech Resistance against the Nazis and the Communists from the age of 11 to 20.

After escaping his homeland in 1948, Novacek fled to Germany, then Venezuela, and finally immigrated with his wife and children to the United States in 1956, where he became an American citizen and established a successful career in Detroit, Michigan.

Endorsed by Madeleine Albright, Border Crossings has been a winner and finalist of 14 awards for independent publishing including a “Gold Medal – Memoir” for the 2012 Midwest Book Awards and “Bronze Medal – World History” for the 2013 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Awards.

Here is what some other readers have said about Border Crossings:

Reads like a suspense novel
Well-told and dramatic story
A powerful memoir
Speaks directly to the human heart
Intimate, intense, fascinating
Beautifully rendered record of a remarkable life
Part memoir and part history lesson
Highly recommended!
Fascinating story – I felt like I was sitting next to him
A book that I couldn’t put down
A story for young and old alike
It is a page-turner and a story you will not forget
Thrilling and inspirational memoir
Amazing story shows the real meaning of survival
You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate it

There is no charge for my visit. I only ask that you pay my mileage if you’re more than   25 miles from my home. Buying the book is not required, but if your group chooses to read Border Crossings, I will provide a discount for paperbacks. Also, there’s a “Reading Group Guide” for the book on my website blog.

Please contact me, Sandra Novacek at or call 313.832.1148. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Visit my Website, Facebook and Pinterest pages.

Border Crossings at Sokol Detroit Czech/Slovak “Festival of Beers”

SATURDAY afternoon, July 19, 2014 – starting at 1:30 p.m., I’ll be exhibiting and selling Charles Novacek’s award-winning memoir, BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance at Sokol Detroit’s CZECH and SLOVAK FESTIVAL, 23600 W. Warren, Dearborn Heights 48127. Come on out for the FESTIVAL of BEERS, Souvenirs, Crystal, Jewelry, Pastries, Music, Dancing, and Much More!

Charles Novacek was born in Czechoslovakia and immigrated to Detroit, MI, USA in 1956 where he became a Sokol Detroit member for 50+ years. His book, BORDER CROSSINGS is his firsthand account of his life spent in the Czech Resistance during World War II and the Cold War between the ages of 11 and 20. The book has been endorsed by Madeleine Albright and has been a winner and finalist of 14 awards for independent publishing.

bcczechslovakfest2014Sokol is the oldest non-profit organization still in existence in the greater Detroit metropolitan area. The vision that started out in the Czech Republic in 1862 and traveled to the United States with new immigrants of one ethnicity, has become a diverse multicultural organization

Their focus is physical fitness for the family and the education of their members and the public to the history and culture of the Czech and Slovak people. In this way, they bring a diverse population together working toward the goal of an educated mind in a healthy body building a strong cohesive community. SOKOL is Czech for “falcon.” SOKOL is English for a great group of people bonded by a common ethnicity, heritage or interest.”

Summer Reading Adventures – The Count(s) of Monte Cristo

bccountofmontecristoSome people think that summer is over after the 4th of July, but I disagree. We have the rest of July and most of August with daylight until 9 p.m. There’s still time to venture into reading a long book (or two), especially a classic that you always said you were going to read, but never have.

A book like THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas.

Why do I bring this book up here? Because it was one of Charles’ favorite stories and one of mine, too. We read the novel out loud to each other and saw the movie several times. But, Charles first reading of the 1,000+ page work was when he was 9 or 10 before the start of World War II.  “I attended the third grade. I liked my teacher immensely; he encouraged us to read. . . My reading skills increased, and by the end of third grade—June 1936—I had read all of the books in the little school library. Then I started reading my father’s books, which required greater literacy; I had to read them twice to understand them better.” Charles told me one of those books was Hrabě Monte Cristo.

The book is a wonderful masterpiece full of intrigue, love, passion, social satire, and great fight scenes.  Set in the early 19th century mainly in Italy and Paris, it tells the story of 19 year-old Edmond Dantes, a handsome young sailor who is about to be married to the beautiful Mercedes. Dantes is also to be made captain of a ship and his future seems bright, but his success creates jealousy among his mates and wins him enemies.

Edmond’s good times end on his wedding day when he is falsely accused of treason and arrested. Despite his innocence he spends 14 years in prison on the island fortress Chateau d’lf without a trial for a crime he never committed. In prison, Edmond befriends a wise priest named Faria, who teaches him many languages and sciences and tells him of a vast hidden treasure on the island of Monte Cristo. The priest eventually dies and Dantes finds a way to escape. The rest of the story deals with how he carries out his plans for revenge.

bcblackcount2A companion to this remarkable story of “fiction” is the true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired Alexandre Dumas to write The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. 

That real-life hero is General Alex Dumas, the protagonist of The Black Count who is not well-known today, but has a familiar story because his son Alexandre Dumas used it to create some of the beloved heroes of literature. What’s even more incredible is the secret that the real hero was the son of a black slave who “rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.”

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in a bold campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is a riveting adventure story and a poignant story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son. It won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2013.

I highly recommend reading one or both of these books during the remaining days of summer!

Detroit Indie Publisher + Indie Bookstore Offer Slice of History with a Slice of Cake

detroitflagDETROIT – The City of Detroit marks its 313th birthday on Thursday, July 24, 2014 and Midtown Detroit’s Source Booksellers and publisher 1021 Press will be celebrating with a slice of history and a slice of birthday cake.

Stop by the bookstore at 11:00 am on the 24th for the walking tour “Book Marked on Cass Avenue: Talk + Walk.”  1021 Press publisher/Detroiter Sandra Novacek and Detroit architecture blogger Jonathan Peters will be your guides.  

This tour covers a slice of history of Detroit’s Cass Avenue and selected landmarks from Willis to Old Main with a literary twist.

vennfront4crbrightLearn about the early architects of this amazing avenue, hear the magnificent stories of buildings and tales of notable residents, discover who the streets are named after and experience what this vibrant area is like today.

9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.inddFeatured on the walk will be the historic Venn Manor (c. 1904), the place where Charles Novacek, Czechoslovak Detroiter and an immigrant,engineer, artist, writer wrote his award-winning memoir from 2000-2007, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, endorsed by Madeleine Albright.

The tour ends back at the bookstore with a slice of birthday cake and for book lovers – 10% off selected books on Detroit or by Detroiters.

bcsourcebooksshelvesSource Booksellers is located at 4240 Cass Avenue, #105. This Detroit 313 Birthday event is free and open to the public.

For information contact Sandra Novacek at 313.832.1148 or Janet Jones at Source Booksellers at 313.832.1155.

Summer+ Calendar of Events – Novacek’s Border Crossings

Cayena Roja: Series 21, a watercolor by Charles Novacek

Cayena Roja: Series 21, a watercolor by Charles Novacek

Summer is in full bloom and Sandra Novacek is enthusiastically presenting programs and participating in events focused on Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, the award-winning memoir by her late husband Charles Novacek. Sandra presents book talks; book signings; and programs for libraries, book clubs, arts and history organizations, etc. She also does a literary walking tour of the neighborhood where Charles wrote his book and appears as an exhibitor at conferences and events. Contact Sandra at for details to plan your event featuring Border Crossings. 

                                               SUMMER+ CALENDAR OF EVENTS 

                                                                   Detroit, MI

BORDER CROSSINGS will be at EASTERN MARKET “SUNDAY STREET MARKET” in DETROIT, MI, 48207, 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., Sundays through August, 2014,

      Warren, MI

7/21 – Warren Public Library - Presentation/Signing, 6:00 p.m., Civic Center Library, 12 Mile & Van Dyke, Warren, MI 48093,

Detroit, MI

7/24 – “Book Marked on Cass Avenue: Talk + Walk: Happy 313 Birthday, Detroit!” 11:00 a.m. A walking tour covering a slice of history with a slice of birthday cake.  Starts @ Source Booksellers, 4240 Cass Ave., Ste. 105, Detroit 48201,

     Huntington Woods, MI

8/13 – Huntington Woods Public Library – Presentation/Signing, 7:00 p.m., 26415 Scotia, Huntington Woods, MI 48070,

    Cedar Rapids, IA

9/4 – National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library – Presentation/Signing, 7:00 p.m., 1400 Inspiration Place SW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52404,

   Ann Arbor, MI

9/7 - Kerrytown BookFest - Exhibitor/Vendor, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market, Ann Arbor, MI 48104,                                     

                                                                 Berkley, MI

9/20 – Berkley Public Library – Presentation/Signing, 2:00 p.m., 3155 Coolidge Hwy., Berkley, MI 48072,

Detroit, MI

10/8 – Scarab Club – Presentation/Painting & Textile Exhibit/Signing, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., 217 Farnsworth, Detroit, MI 48202,

                                                             Ann Arbor, MI

10/15 – “Study Group on “Border Crossings,” University of Michigan, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), 10:00 a.m., Turner Resource Center, 2401 Plymouth Rd. Suite C, Ann Arbor, MI 48105,

                                                                Novi, MI

10/27 – “Authors Live Luncheon” Sponsored by Novi Public Library – Presentation/Signing, 11:30 a.m., Fox Run, 41000 13 Mile Rd., Novi, MI 48377,

                                                          Pittsburgh, Pa

11/2 – “The 24th Annual Slovak Heritage Festival.” University of Pittsburgh, Cathedral of Learning Commons Room, Pittsburgh, PA, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Features folk dancing groups, singers, cultural displays, lectures, Slovak food, vendors. Free admission.

Winged Lion Memorial Unveiled in Prague Honors World War II Czechoslovaks for Courage

Source: Royal Air Force

Source: Royal Air Force

One of Charles Novacek’s assignments in the Czech resistance during World War II was to greet and find shelter for RAF-trained Czechoslovak paratroopers who were dropped into the Moravian hills to bring supplies and information from the Czech government in exile in England to their homeland resistance.  

Yesterday, June 17, 2014, a monument was unveiled in Prague honoring the courage of the 2,500 Czechoslovaks who fought against Nazi Germany in Great Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF).  These brave young men and women escaped from their homeland to Great Britain for training as Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots and paratroopers. Like Charles’ family, they risked their lives to fight alongside their friends to free Europe from Nazi oppression.

The monument, called the “Winged Lion”, is a gift from Prague’s British expatriate community in gratitude for the airmen’s contribution during World War II. British Sculptor Colin Spofforth was commissioned to build the two meter memorial which was cast in bronze at a foundry in Horni Kalna (Trutnov region), Czech Republic.

Veterans were on hand for the event, which was followed by a Spitfire plane flying down the Vltava River. Sir Nicholas Soames, a member of British Parliament, a former defense minister and the grandson of Winston Churchill, gave the main speech at the unveiling. He stated that “freedom is often only appreciated by those who don’t have it” and remarked that “A cruel irony was to follow in that the freedom and sovereignty for which they fought would be lost as they suffered the unforgivable persecution by the communist regime just a few years later.”

Expatriate leader Euan Edworthy remarked about the idea for the memorial, “‘We were thinking about World War II and how admirable it was that volunteers from Czechoslovakia had surmounted incredible obstacles to join the RAF and join the aerial battle against the Nazis. They were very good: many of the aces in the Battle of Britain were Czechs and Slovaks. We realized that there was no memorial in the Czech Republic from the British to the sacrifice that these men made, and we decided to put that right. . . We Brits have enjoyed centuries of freedom: free speech, free association, free thought. Czechs and Slovaks were entitled to the same freedoms until 1938 and were then denied them for a further 48 years.”

He added, “Our Winged Lion is a tribute to the Czechoslovaks who simply wouldn’t allow themselves to be oppressed. Many paid for their beliefs with their lives. We should not forget the debt that we free Europeans owe to these warriors who paid with ‘blood, sweat, tears and toil’ for the liberty which is our birth right today. Freedom cannot be taken for granted.”

You can read about Charles Novacek’s interactions with RAF-trained Czechoslovakian paratroopers in the award-winning Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, 2012.