Detroit, U of M, and Charles: A Cass Corridor Story

bcumdetroityear1Had great fun in my Cass Corridor neighborhood today with University of Michigan students in the “Semester in Detroit” program.  I was one of the local speakers at Source Booksellers, a neighborhood indie bookstore.

I talked with the students about Charles writing his memoir in the city (a Detroit immigrant story), Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, our meeting and lives in the city before and after meeting.

We walked down the street from the bookstore to my condo in a historic, 1904/5 bccharleschairrehabbed building. The intent was just to let them see the exterior, but that didn’t seem right so even though my living/dining room was in a state of “chaos” with book marketing stuff, etc., I impetuously invited the students inside. They reassured me by remarking they are students and used to such disarray.  It was fun to show them Charles’ favorite writing chair and many of his beautiful paintings.

Pictured above are the students on my front porch with Jonathan Peters an independent Detroit architecture historian. As we walked down the street, Jonathan told a little history of the buildings. Charles wasn’t the only “magic” in the neighborhood. Diagonally across the street from my residence is the site of the former W. R. Hamilton and Company Funeral Home where famed magician Harry Houdini was taken after his death following a performance in Detroit on October 31, 1926.

Semester in Detroit is a program for University of Michigan students that participate by living in Detroit for a semester, take classes in the city, and complete an internship with an organization also in the city. More information can be found at

Librarians at PLA, Indianapolis: Photograph a Book, Get it Free!


bcplalandscapecutI’m excited to be able to offer free copies of Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance by Charles Novacek to 25 attendees of the Public Library Association Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana from March 12-15, 2014. Just follow the simple instructions on the flyer posted below and you’ll win the book for your library. bcplacombinedbookex1500

Detroit Publisher to Sign Book “Border Crossings” on March 8

bcnextchapsign1cr400FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

Sandra Novacek, Proprietor of 1021 Press, Detroit, MI will sign copies of her late husband Charles Novacek’s book Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance at The Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro on Saturday, March 8, 2014 from 10:00 am – 11:30 am.

DETROIT, Mich., March 4, 2014 — Meet Sandra Novacek, widow of author Charles bcfbbohemianhallmeetingcr3flyerNovacek. She will sign copies of Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, her late husband’s book at The Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro on Saturday, March 8, 2014 from 1:00 – 2:30 pm.

Novacek lovingly published her husband’s memoir after his death. The first person account tells the incredible story of her late husband’s survival amid the Nazi and Communist occupations of his Czechoslovakian homeland during World War II and the Cold War.

Border Crossings has been endorsed by Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State. The book has been a finalist and/or winner of 14 independent book awards including bcmidwestbaseal2a Gold Medal for Memoir in the 2012 Midwest Book Awards, Bronze Medal for World History in the 2012 Independent Book Awards, First Place for Life Stories in the 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and Honorable Mention for Memoir in the 2012 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards.

The Next Chapter Bookstore & Bistro is located at 141 E Main St, Northville, MI 48167. For more information about the event, please contact the bookstore at (248) 465-0010.

bcfreep021414scancr1000Border Crossings was most recently featured on the front page of the Detroit Free Press on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2014 in the article “Ultimate valentine: Book of
husband’s war-era stories became a project of love.”

Novacek is available for interviews, meetings with book groups, book talks and presentations about Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance and independent publishing. To book Novacek for an event please contact her at

For further information visit the book website and blog at:

Montaigne, Eric Hoffer and Novacek’s Border Crossings

Portrait of Michel De Montaigne by Salvador Dali

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Salvador Dali

Today, February 28 is the birthday of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, born in Perigord, Bordeaux, France in 1533.  Montaigne was an influential writer of the French Renaissance, considered the creator of the personal essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his merging of serious intellectual exercises with anecdotes and autobiography. Montaigne influenced such people as William Shakespeare, Rene Descartes, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Eric Hoffer.

Ibcmontaignefinaliststickern 2013, BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance by Charles Novacek, was recognized as a 2013 Montaigne Medal Finalist in The Eric Hoffer Awards for excellence in independent publishing. Montaigne Medal books are considered to be thought-provoking books that either illuminate, progress or redirect thought and are given in honor of the great philosopher Michel de Montaigne.

The Hoffer Awards judges commented on BORDER CROSSINGS:

“In this well articulated memoir, Charles Novacek pays tribute to the heroes of his past. . . 9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.inddCourageous and inquisitive, our hero comes to age through the horrors of World War II, spends his tumultuous youth fighting Communism, and finds peace in a land away from home. Like many before him, coming to America becomes an act of self preservation, not an abandonment of the homeland. Part memoir and part history lesson, this book captures a time long gone, with moments of normalcy and love in the midst of suffering and struggle. . . This book [BORDER CROSSINGS] makes an important contribution to the literature of World War II and communism in Eastern Europe.

Sochi Olympics, Ski-jumping, and Courage

Charles Novacek on skis at age four

Charles Novacek on skis at age four

Watching the spectacular hair-raising sport of ski-jumping in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics brings to mind the will, strength, and courage of my late husband Charles. By the time he was ten years old he was an experienced ski-jumper.

Perhaps no winter sport asks for more raw courage than ski jumping. Charles literally took  a leap of faith using his body to soar without wings.

In the excerpt below from his award-winning memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, Charles describes his experiences ski-jumping in the lower Tatra Mountains of Slovakia shortly before the German occupation of his homeland. These experiences played a part in Charles developing the essential self-discipline, control, and physical fitness for his work in the Czech Resistance and later life.

“Despite my growing awareness of the darker side of life, there was much fun to be had. For instance, I enjoyed skiing with the village boys. Although there were challenging slopes everywhere, we always invented more daring displays of courage and competed among ourselves. My family’s home stood alongside the main road, parallel to the river Hron. On the other side of the river was the railroad, and behind it was a huge mountain. Using snow, we built a small ski jump and used it as a springboard perpendicular to the train line. All of us jumped over the train, but only two made it through the locomotive smokestack. I was lucky; my skis were perfectly treated, perfectly crafted wood, while the other boys’ skis were improvised from the strips of wood used for wine barrels.

One day my mother didn’t know where I was. Then she spotted little boys ski-jumping over the trains. She took my father’s binoculars and saw me coming down the hill through the smoke of the locomotive. My father later told me that Mother almost fainted, but she came running to his office, yelling at him to stop us. He knew he couldn’t, and that we would find another treacherous activity anyway; at least they could keep an eye on us as we ski-jumped.”

Is there an activity you pursued in your childhood that prepared you for dangerous and/or difficult activities in later life? If so, please describe.

My Ultimate Valentine. Front Page Above the Fold!

This was my Ultimate Valentine! An article on Border Crossings: Coming of Age  in the Czech Resistance by Charles Novacek on the front page of the February 14, 2014
Detroit Free Press – above the fold! Thank you Zlati Meyer, Staff Writer and Kimberly P. Mitchell, Photographer. Read the article here.


Shirley Temple & Charles Novacek — An Inspiration

bcshirleytemple6cr“One has to handle these negative experiences alone. You can’t get help from your friends or family. You’re finally alone with it, and you have  to come to grips with misfortune and go on.”                     –Shirley Temple

It doesn’t take much to arouse memories of my late, beloved husband Charles Novacek! I woke up this morning to the sad news that Shirley Temple Black had died and Charles* instantly came to mind.

bccharlesblogshirleyShirley and Charles – They were both inspirations to me at different times of my life. In my youth, Shirley fueled my love of the performing arts and in later life Charles taught me the power of love and resilience, to be brave and strong in the face of adversity.

They were both born the same year – 1928. Curly-topped, precocious children who loved to dance and sing. Shirley was a remarkable tap dancer and Charles executed a lively and daring tango.

Both were forced to grow up too soon – Shirley as a movie star in Hollywood during the 1930s and 40s and Charles as a resistance fighter between the ages of eleven and twenty in Czechoslovakia during World War II and the Cold War.

While America’s darling delighted me on film with her “Good Ship Lollipop,” there was nothing I adored more than being serenaded with my darling’s strong baritone “Some Enchanted Evening.”

Charles became a Czechoslovakian émigré to America while Shirley became an ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Both served their countries well, though in different,  ways believing in the importance of the preservation of human freedom.

And both knew the importance of leaving us all a legacy of their own stories: Shirley penned Child Star: an Autobiography, McGraw-Hill, 1988.  Charles wrote Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, 2012. 

Charles believed that it is important to know and understand the lessons of history. He wrote,” I am a son of war children from times when other wars were fought, and now I carry  on the world’s never-ending tradition. Will my children have to do the same? Charles wrote  his memoir, not just to share the past, but to inform for the present and the future.

Thank you, Shirley and Charles for that! Happy Valentine’s Day!

*I refer to my Charles Novacek. Shirley Temple’s husband was also named Charles!

A Wintry Day, Charles, and a Recipe for Tasty Soup

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

My husband Charles liked to cook and do the grocery shopping. He took pride in selecting the freshest produce and meat at the lowest possible cost. He learned to cook as a child from both his Hungarian/Slovak mother and Czech father.

Charles’ specialties were traditional Slovak, Czech, Austrian, and Hungarian dishes – his mother’s recipes: cabbage soup, goulash, palacinka, dumplings, wiener schnitzel, etc.

Slovak cuisine has its origin in the landscapes from flat Danube valley lowlands, through the eastern wine-producing Tokaj region, to the snow-capped peaks of the Tatra Mountains in the north. Slovakia was a land of simple peasants, who spent their days working in the fields or watching after sheep in the mountains. The cuisine evolved from the ingredients people grew in their gardens, or from the products of the animals they raised. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and onions are the basis of many dishes, supplemented by chicken and pork and sometimes beef.

On these cold, wintry days I crave a bowl of Charles’ Slovak-inspired  Poor Soup. He called it “Poor” because it was so cheap and simple to make.

soup \ süp \ n –s

1. a liquid food having as a base, meat, fish, or vegetable stock,  being clear or thickened to the consistency of a thin puree or having milk or cream added, and often having pieces of solid food (as meat, shellfish, pasta, or vegetables)

The process of combining various ingredients in a large pot to create a nutritious, filling, easily digested, simple to make/serve food was inevitable. This made it the perfect choice for both sedentary and travelling cultures, rich and poor, healthy people and invalids. Soup (and stews, pottages, porridges, gruels, etc.) evolved according to local ingredients and tastes. Most soups are variations on the same theme.

When Charles was alive we ate soup almost every day. Homemade soup. Made at home by Charles. It was romantic. I miss the soup and Charles. I was a very lucky woman.

Recipe for Charles’ Poor Soup

Charles didn’t have his recipe written down. I put this together based on Slovak recipe research and from what I remember from watching Charles prepare the soup. 


½ fresh, green cabbage (1.7 lb.)

1 small chopped onion

½ c. olive oil

1 t. ground caraway

1 t. ground nutmeg

2/3 cup flour

10  cups water

6 oz. can, tomato paste

3 T. sea salt or to taste

3 T. sugar or to taste

3T. vinegar

Preparation Time: One hour

Remove the hard, inner core from the cabbage and the outer green leaves (the leaves can be used for stuffed cabbage (holubky) .

Cut the cabbage into thin strips.

Put the cabbage strips into a pot with the oil. Fry the cabbage for 5 minutes while stirring continuously.

Add ground caraway and ground nutmeg. Top this with flour and put it in a cup of water.

Chop and saute onion in olive oil. Add to cabbage.

Stir and cover with a lid. Steam covered on low heat for about 30 minutes until the cabbage is almost fully cooked/soft.  Stir every few minutes so it doesn’t burn. Add water as needed.

Pour in the remaining water and all of the tomato paste. Finish seasoning with salt, sugar, and vinegar.

Serve hot with homemade garlic toast.

Read more about Charles Novacek and his life in Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, Detroit.

Midwest Book Review on Novacek’s Border Crossings

“Highly recommended read. . . a copy deserves to be in every community library 20th Century Biography collection for the sake of new and future generations of readers.”                                                                                Midwest Book Review

bcmidwestbookreviewI’m thrilled! The respected Midwest Book Review has reviewed Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance in the January 2014 issue “Small Press Bookwatch, Biography Shelf.”

The review is also posted with Cengage Learning making it available to public, academic and corporate libraries nationwide.


Synopsis: Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance is the captivating, tender memoir of Charles Novacek, a Czechoslovakian whose idyllic childhood exploring the Tatra Mountains was shattered by the Nazi occupation of his homeland. He spent his youth defending his neighbors, his family, and his country, first 9780985415105-JacketGray_novacek.inddfrom the Nazi atrocities of World War II and then from the Soviet oppression of the ensuing Cold War. Charles was eleven years old when his father and uncle recruited him into the Czech Resistance. 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 he equipped for their shelter. As a young man, Charles was captured and jailed by the Communists and rescued by an underground resistance network. In too much danger to remain in Czechoslovakia, he staged a daring escape only to land in a miserable displaced persons camp. His will to live prevailed once again, and Charles eventually married and built a successful life in America. Filled with heroic adventures and great bravery, Border Crossings is one man’s remarkable tale of his incredible life and a testament to the human capacity to survive.

Critique: Exceptionally well written from beginning to end, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance reads like a best-seller novel but is a true life memoir of a remarkable man who lived in horrific times and came through them to create a successful life despite what he had to overcome — or perhaps because of it! Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance is an extraordinary and highly recommended read. Simply stated, a copy deserves to be in every community library 20th Century Biography collection for the sake of new and future generations of readers.

Librarian Picks Up Fight to Publish Husband’s Memoir

bcsandyfirstcontainer3Over the last year many articles/interviews have been published about Charles’ and my work to get Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance published. Below is an excerpt and link to one of my favorites, written by Howard Lovy for Foreword This Week, the weekly eNewsletter from Foreword Reviews magazine.

FTW delivers compelling reviews of under-the-radar titles. Foreword’s editorial staff has a vetting process unlike any other, so you’re virtually guaranteed to end up with the stuff that really should be read! 

“Meet Sandra Novacek, a suburban Detroit librarian … and resistance fighter. Yes, resistance fighter. Now, Sandra would be the first to say that she is not the hero of this story. That title would rightly belong to her late husband, Charles Novacek, who spent his youth fighting Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia then, later, Soviet oppression during the Cold War. This is the subject of the book written by Charles and published posthumously by Sandra, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance. But when Charles passed away in 2007, it was Sandra who picked up the fight to have this work published, resisting the procrastination of big publishers, to have his story heard. And, as Sandra explains in this interview with ForeWord This Week, she fought with the brains and resourcefulness of a librarian, the fierceness of an independent publisher, and the heart and soul of a warrior.

Since Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance won Honorable Mention from ForeWord Reviews’ 2012 Book of the Year Award competition, the book has collected many more awards and honors. What is it about your late husband’s story that has resonated so well?

I think Border Crossings resonates because it is an authentic, first-person account about a place in history people know little about. The story is well-told and intimate. It’s written in a voice and point of view that people can relate to and told as if Charles were “right there in the room with them.” There seems to be a chemistry between Charles and the readers. His story is inspirational, but Border Crossings is not only a story of a young man’s resilience and bravery during World War II and the Cold War, but it is also a story of love for one’s family and country and a woman’s love for her husband—a love that inspired her to fulfill her promise and his wish to have his story told. People seem to like that, too—“the story around the story.”

Also important, I truly believe how you present information matters, and I think people are drawn to the beauty of the appearance of the physical book and ebook. They like the authenticity and subtle mystery of the cover, the colors, the carefully selected family photographs, the timeline and recommendations for further reading, etc. It’s all a part of the total reading experience that makes a story resonate.” Click on the link for the rest of the article.

Excerpted with permission of Howard Lovy, ForeWord This Week, October 17, 2013 issue.  Note: The originally published article improperly states Charles’ death date as 1997. He died in 2007.