Across a Crowded Room. . .


When my late husband Charles and I first met face to face in 1996 he told me he had seen me somewhere before. . . “across a crowded room.” Charles declared he painted portraits and “never forgot a face.”  He definitely remembered seeing mine. Somewhere.  I hoped that was a good thing!

I oddly felt the same way about Charles’ face and started thinking long and hard about where we could have met.  What were the possibilities? What locations did we have in common? Where could our paths have crossed? We both lived in the city of Southfield, Michigan at one time. Maybe we saw each other at the public library or a bakery.  At a hardware store or movie.  Or was it our doppelganger or clone we saw? I was determined to solve the mystery.

Eventually, it occurred to me our encounter could have been work-related. I started to think about locations a civil engineer and a public library director would have in common. Somewhere connected with building construction or architecture.  And then it hit me!

In 1978, the taxpayers of Hartland, Michigan, where I was a library director passed a bond issue for the construction of an addition to our historic Federalist style building opened in 1927 and designed by acclaimed architect Emil Lorch.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Lorch attended the Detroit School of Art and studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1890-1892. He taught architecture at the University of Chicago and adapted the concept of Pure Design developed by Denham W. Ross of Harvard University. Lorch’s version of Pure Design taught students to be inventive with shape, space and color rather than rely on traditional styles and architectural solutions. He was also credited with inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright in his design of Unity Temple in Chicago.

Lorch was the first director of the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan from 1906.  In 1923 he offered a visiting professorship to Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, the second place prize winner of the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition. Saarinen accepted Lorch’s offer and remained at Michigan until 1925 when George Booth invited him to develop a new art school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan — the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Then Lorch was named the first dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Michigan in 1931.

In preparation for our library building project, it was important to me to learn as much as I could about building and interior design. I felt it was important to respect the work of Lorch, the notable Michigan architect and designer of Cromaine Library.

I read a lot about “state of the art” libraries and researched workshops and conferences to attend. At that time there were virtually no local workshops on these topics focusing on library buildings exclusively. Luckily, I found out about “Design Michigan: Your Community,” a conference to be held at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1979. The target audience was community managers, planners, business representatives, people in charge of public buildings etc. I fit in.

Preconference endorsements stated, “Good design is an intelligent use of our resources. It uses what we have done in the past, with an eye toward the future. Good design can be efficient, saving money and supplies. It can respond to the times and the changes in our society. It can be functional, fitting in with the environment yet at the same time serving people’s needs. And while it can be practical, it can also be aesthetically pleasing.”

It sounded perfect for me and I loved the tie-in with Emil Lorch’s connection to Cranbrook, with its beautifully designed historic buildings and grounds.

And it WAS perfect. Charles had been doing work at Cranbrook. Nearly twenty years later we figured it out! That’s where I first saw Charles and where he first saw me “across a crowded room.”

Note: Above are photographs of Charles and me from close to the time period of our first encounter. It’s the best I could do.

Educator’s Guide Debut + 2nd Anniversary of Border Crossings

teacherguidecover1Today, 10/21/14,* I hail the second anniversary of the launch of BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance.   Thank you one and all for your encouragement and support of Charles Novacek’s award-winning memoir and me through this remarkable journey! Many borders have indeed been crossed.

Charles’ timeless firsthand account of his life spent in the Czech Resistance from age 11 to 20 during World War II and the Cold War continues to inspire readers, young and old alike.

However, this year there will be no champagne toast or cake to honor this. Instead, I will celebrate with the debut of an Educator’s Guide for BORDER CROSSINGS created by author, educator, and consultant, Debbie Gonzales. Its official introduction will be at the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME) Annual Conference, “Cavalcade of Authors” on October 23, 2014 in Ann Arbor, MI.

The guide “has been crafted with the overall intent to connect readers with Charles’ emotional journey as a young man growing up in a time of historical turmoil. The lessons and activities presented in the guide are creative, intuitive, and informative, thus allowing students to consider Charles’ plight as if it were their own. All aspects of the guide have been aligned with the Common Core Anchor Standards of Reading Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and History/Social Studies for grades 6 to 12.”

Ms. Gonzales states “This unforgettable book distills history down to a person level, one that young people can connect with emotionally. Students will identify with Charles and his initial desires to be a regular kid, engaging in activities and interests much like their own. As the incredible story progresses, students will be shocked by the unbelievable trials Charles was forced to endure – trials that are documented through letters, documents, and pictures. In short, BORDER CROSSINGS: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance transcends a factual study of war and geography into an experience and appreciation of a man’s soulful journey of heartfelt love for his country and her people.”

The guide is available online through and What a thrill to be able to introduce and share Charles’ message and story with young people!

*It’s also the date Charles and I were married in 1996 and the name of my publishing company – 1021 Press.

6 Reasons to Attend Book + Art Event at the Scarab Club

scarabwindowDetroiter Sandra Novacek will present an illustrated talk on her late husband Charles Novacek’s life as told in Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 from 6-8 p.m. at the Scarab Club, Detroit. Sandra will show vintage family photos and give details of the dangers her husband faced and how art played an important role in his life during World War II and the Cold War.


scarabclubsmallbeam  1. THE HISTORIC SCARAB CLUB. The event will be held in Detroit’s beautiful and historic Scarab Club lounge where famed artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo hung out while he worked on his Detroit industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Rivera signed a beam in the lounge in 1932, an over 80 year tradition of famous artists, writers et al leaving their autographs for posterity. The first beam was signed in 1928 (the year Charles Novacek was born) by Vachel Lindsey, the father of modern singing poetry. Other signers include writers Elmore Leonard and John Dos Passos and artists Norman Rockwell and Charles Burchfield.

bcmidwestbaseal2  2. AN AWARD-WINNING BOOK. The memoir Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance has not only been endorsed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, but it has been a winner and finalist of 14 awards for independent publishing including a Midwest Book Awards Gold Medal for Autobiography/Memoir, and an Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Award for World History.

bcwarrenplsandycrnewsletter  3. A GREAT STORY! Charles Novacek died in 2007 but his widow, Sandra Novacek promised his story would be told. A gifted storyteller in her own right, Sandra enchants as she recounts tales from her husband’s heroic life, adventure, escape and survival in Czechoslovakia from terrifying to heartwarming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  4. BEAUTIFUL AND EXPRESSIVE ART WORK. The event will be enhanced by an exhibit of Charles Novacek’s drawings and paintings. His works range from portraiture in pastel and acrylic to deeply expressive acrylics and watercolors. Examples include “Samarkand Child”, a portrait of a beggar he found crying on a street curb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The paintings were created at different points in Novacek’s life as well, ranging from one he painted at age 13 to one he did shortly before he died in 2007.

bckroj3  5. VINTAGE, EMBROIDERED FOLK COSTUMES. A selection of rare and colorful, 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 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.

applestrudelczechbox  6. DELICIOUS APPLE STRUDEL. Enjoy one of the Czech Republic’s most popular desserts – apple strudel (Jablecny zavin), while viewing the art, socializing and networking with other visitors at the event. Apple strudel is a traditional pastry, a large rectangular pastry turnover, easily recognizable because of its nice high stacks of apple layers. It is DELICIOUS and lovingly baked by the Czechbox Bakery!

The Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth St., Detroit. Free. Information: (313) 831-1250,  Lot and metered street parking. Secure public parking is available in the Cultural Center surface lot, directly behind the Scarab Club. There are no elevators or other handicap access to the 2nd and 3rd floors. 

Banned Books Week + Celebrate the Freedom to Read!

bannedbooksweekFree people read freely! Every year hundreds of books have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States. The American Library Association (ALA), says there were at least 464 in 2012.

The librarian and freedom-loving American in me has always been concerned by this and so each year I join the book community et al celebrating Banned Books Week, September 21-21, 2014 - bringing attention to challenged books and the importance of the freedom to read. Librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types share in the support of this freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship. While books have been and continue to be banned, part of the celebration is the fact that, in a majority of cases, the books have remained available. This happens thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, students, and community members who stand up and speak out for the freedom to read.

When I hear of books being banned I can’t help but think of the rampant censorship of the Nazis throughout Germany and the countries they occupied including Czechoslovakia, my late husband Charles Novacek’s homeland. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Propaganda Ministry directed by Joseph Goebbels took control of all forms of communication: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media.

Even before the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia (spring 1933) Nazi student organizations, professors, and librarians created lists of books they thought should not be read by Germans. Then one night the Nazis raided libraries and bookstores across Germany. They marched by torchlight in nighttime parades, sang chants, and threw books into huge bonfires. On that night more than 25,000 books were burned. Some were works of Jewish writers, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. Most of the books were by non-Jewish writers, including such famous Americans as Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis, whose ideas the Nazis viewed as different from their own and therefore not to be read.

Also censored were books by Upton Sinclair, H. G. Wells and even the books of Helen Keller, who had inspite of her deafness and blindness had become a respected writer. When told of the of the book burnings, Keller responded: “Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas.” Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States protested the book burnings, a clear violation of freedom of speech, in public rallies across America.

Schools also played an important role in spreading Nazi ideas. Some books were removed from classrooms by censors and newly written textbooks were brought in to teach students the German language and blind obedience and devotion to the party and Adolf Hitler.

My husband Charles experienced Nazi censorship in his schools in the Nazi occupied protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia from 1939-1945. He poignantly talks about his experiences in his award-winning memoir, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance, 1021 Press, 2012. 

Please join me this week and year ‘round to protect our important freedom to read and share ideas freely Celebrate Banned Books Week and protect the Freedom to Read!

# Peace Day: Postpone No More!

Return to the Cave to Enlighten - Acrylic Series 36From Charles Novacek’s Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance

My father could not understand

the mid-century chaos

that spread discontent

and disregarded peoples’ right to live in peace.

Silently I watched his torment

over the conditions in which we found ourselves

when the war ended.

Politicians had not—

and still have not—

learned enough from history to prevent wars







and the practice of domination.

The war didn’t end.

  Peace was just postponed.




Border Crossings – Tomorrow Night




             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.