The title of the book is “Čas proměn,” which translates (from Czech) into English as “Time of Changes” or “Time of Transformation.” The book covers the period from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, when Czechoslovakia and the rest of the former Eastern bloc underwent a historic transformation from communism and centrally planned economies to liberal democracies and market-based capitalism. The period also corresponds to my own personal interaction with Central and Eastern Europe. I first visited the region in 1982 as a student on a spring-break road trip from Luxembourg to Bulgaria. I later worked in Vienna as a journalist and reported on the former Eastern bloc for Business International and The Economist Group. I moved to Prague in 1991 and worked as an editor for the newly established “Prague Post” newspaper and then as a co-owner of The Globe Bookstore & Coffeehouse.
"Čas proměn," in a sense, is a memoir. In each of the 12 chapters, I focus on a particular year and share stories and impressions from my own life at that time. As the book will be published in Czech (and aimed primarily at Czech and Slovak readers), though, I also try to shape the narrative in such a way as to keep the stories relevant to the interests of readers. Each chapter is grounded in events taking place at the time in Czechoslovakia and the rest of the region. My primary aim with the book is to entertain and amuse. On a deeper level, though, I hope to present a fresh account of a period that will feel familiar to readers, but which may seem different when told from the perspective of a relative outsider. In this case, that outsider is me.
The book began as an outgrowth of this blog, and serves as a reminder to fellow bloggers (and anyone else thinking of starting a blog) that you never know where these things will lead. When I first started this website in 2017, I had no plans whatsoever to write a book. I simply wanted a platform to publish stories for which I didn’t think I could find a commercial outlet. I was very surprised in November 2019 to receive the following email, out of the blue, from an editor at a leading Czech publisher, Albatros Media:
Dear Mr. Baker,
My name is Jan xxx and I work as an editor in the CPress publishing house (which is part of Albatros Media). I saw your website and read the article “Vzpomínky na rok 1989.” I thought I would contact you and ask if you might be interested in writing about your experiences in Czechoslovakia a little bit more. I would like to ask directly: Have you ever considered writing a book (memoir) on this topic for Czech readers? It could be a great complement to the history of this period.
With kind regards, Jan
That email kicked off a process that lasted over a year of going through old notes, letters, and diaries; reaching out to old friends for their own memories; sifting through hundreds of old photos; and finally drafting the outline and writing up the chapters. I wrote the original manuscript in English. It was then translated into Czech by a helpful and encouraging translator, Eva K. As I mentioned above, there are several stages to go before the book is published. My editor must now read through and suggest changes to the Czech version. If all goes according to plan, "Čas proměn" will appear in Czech and Slovak bookshops (if bookshops are open by then) sometime later this year.
To English-language readers, I haven’t yet decided what to do with the English manuscript. I would love to find a British or American publisher or publishing outlet for it (please let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions). I think the stories could find an English audience, but the chapters would likely have to be re-worked to give the characters and stories relevance to readers who didn’t experience the events first-hand.
Going forward, I will post updates here to the blog to let readers know when to expect publication. I will also post to Twitter if I hear of anything worth sharing. If you would like to see old photos and artwork that we will include with the book, I’ve started a dedicated Instagram account. Find it at: Cas_Promen.