I was born Tat’ána Nováková in Czechoslovakia in March 1970. My parents, Jakub and Kateřina were both schoolteachers in a small town not too far from Prague. My father, he taught History and my mother, she taught English. In the 1970s Czechoslovakia was under a communist regime and had been for many years. There was a lot of unrest as many people were against the communist regime. I remember my father telling me of a time when things were not so severe and most people were happy. I was about six years old at the time. When I asked him why all the people were not happy, he said that ‘you cannot please all the people all of the time’. That is the closest translation of what he said in my language into English. As a historian, my father had studied the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and taught about men like Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk who became the first President of Czechoslovakia in November of 1918. He often told me how the Czechs and the Slovaks united to form the country despite the cultural, historical and religious differences they had. I used to love listening to my father talk about my country and how proud he was to be a Czechoslovakian. I think my mother shared his love for the country but not for the government of the country and was very verbal about this. My father often joked many times that she was strong minded in her ways. During that period, many people had been arrested for trying to oppose the communist government and my mother often said that she thought we should leave for the West and live in a Democratic country, where the people were free and had a voice.
What are my earliest memories of my home? At three or four years of age, I remember the green grass of summer and the fresh fruits. I remember running in a field near our home and thinking that I could run to the end of the world because the field was so big and no matter how fast or how long I ran, I never got to the end of it. (Looking back, I must have been running in circles). I don’t recall many children in the area I grew up in. I had no cousins that I visited; there were no grandparents who visited us. My parents seemed to live a life where they were the only person in each other’s life and I was part of both of their lives. At three or four I didn’t notice how isolated we were because my parents were sufficient for me. Sufficient is a new word I learned not long ago; it means enough. I think it is because of my mother’s vocation that I have grown fond of learning new English words and using them in the right fashion. Sometimes I have problems because I use words that people here in America do not fully understand. One of the men who guards us calls me ‘Little Miss Big Words’. I will come to the men who guard us later. So back to my early life—when I was seven years old my mother had a baby girl. She was born on the fifteenth of October and called Tereza, which is her name day on the Czechoslovakian calendar. I don’t know if you are familiar with how children are named in my country. Let me explain how it works. There are three hundred and sixty five days in a year and each day has a name attached to it. If you have a child on a particular day you have to call it the name attached to the day. A special permission form is required from the authorities to give a child a name that is not on the Czechoslovakian calendar. Let me think for a few moments . . . yes that is correct, I have explained it how it was explained to me. My sister Tereza was like a little fat ‘moving’ doll that ate and ate then slept and I loved her. I couldn’t wait for her to grow up so that we could play. For some reason I thought that she would grow up and I would remain the same age then we would both be seven and would play outside in the green field together. Why did I think this? It is strange looking back that I would think this—they say innocence is a buffer that protects you from harm. Life, while I waited for Tereza to grow up, was the same. My parents loved us both equally and they showed their love openly. I spent time with my father learning about the history of my country while my mother took care of Tereza. My father loved our country and he loved to teach me the history of our country and other countries of the world. He was not always in work because of the conditions of the country and because of a lot of mistrust among people. A number of small groups tried to oppose the communist government but they were quickly squashed. I remember how happy my parents were when the first organized opposition called Charter 77 appeared in January 1977. Even though it wasn’t a political party as such it had many people sign their names to it and it posed a threat as it offered independent thinking, which opposed the communist rule. Many of the people who had signed their names to it were arrested, interrogated and dismissed from work. The government closed schools and churches that they thought were teaching anything which contradicted what they dictated. Communism says that everyone is equal and should live in a classless society. It dictates that there are no wealthy people and no poor people but communal ownership among all people. It not only says this, it stops anything that contradicts what it says from contaminating the minds of the people it controls. Television, radio and newspapers are either banned or controlled. Is it good? I’m only fifteen and haven’t lived long enough to make a decision on that. What I can say is what I saw: communism takes away the individuality of a person. It strips them of their voice and it strips them of their thoughts; it tells them what thoughts to think and how to think those thoughts. In a way it can leave a person without responsibility for their actions and free to do things that are wrong and free not to do the things that are right. To some people it is good and to others it is not good. As my father said ‘you cannot please all the people all of the time.’
My parents were killed in a car accident when I was ten years old and my sister was three years old. We had no family to take us in so we were placed in an orphanage