Urbánek, Zdenek 1917–2008

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Urbánek, Zdenek 1917–2008

(Zdenek Urbanek)


See index for CA sketch: Born October 12, 1917; died June 12, 2008, in the Czech Republic. Translator, novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and author. For most of his life, Urbánek eked out a modest living by translating into Czech the work of western literary giants: Shakespeare, Dickens, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. Czechoslovakia, under Nazi occupation during World War II and Communist control afterward, was not a healthy environment for writers and other creative souls. Urbánek was additionally burdened by his lack of interest in joining the Communist Party. He came to be regarded as a dissident, and he became one. Urbánek's small Prague flat was a haven for Jews and others who needed refuge during and after the war. In 1977 he was one of the drafters of Charter 77, an attempt to force the Czech government to comply with international human rights guidelines. This earned him a visit from the secret police, followed by arrest and interrogation. Through all of this, Urbánek continued to write his short stories, essays, and an occasional novel. Some works were published by the samizdat (underground press), and others languished, awaiting a more propitious environment. On occasion Urbánek was allowed to travel: to England in the 1960s and to the United States in 1989, at the same time when the Communist government collapsed and his friend Vaclav Havel became the first president of the new Czechoslovakia. Urbánek could publish his writings openly, both in his homeland and in English translation. His human rights activities became public, and Urbánek was awarded the Order of Thomas G. Masaryk, an honorary doctorate from Spertus College of Judaica in the United States, and the medal of the "righteous among nations" from the Yad Vashem Museum in Israel. Urbánek's later years were not without their disappointments, including the separation of his country into Czech and Slovak segments and his country's reduced support of the arts, but he was able to write as he wished, and much of his work was published. Urbánek's writings in English include On the Sky's Clayey Bottom: Sketches and Happenings from the Years of Silence (1992).



Times (London, England), August 1, 2008, p. 59.