UACS cover
"Once in a rare while we read a book that puts the urgencies of our time and ourselves in perspective... Mrs. Kovaly experienced the two supreme horrors of what Hannah Arendt called this terrible century. Her book is not just a personal memoir of inhumanity. In telling her story — simply, without self-pity — she illuminates some general truths of human behavior." — Anthony Lewis, New York Times

"One of the outstanding autobiographies of the century." —
San Francisco Chronicle

Paperback available on Amazon

eBook available on Kindle, Apple iBooks, Nook, Kobo


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Helen Epstein translated this book from the Czech with the author in 1985; Plunkett Lake Press was its first publisher. It was subsequently reissued by Penguin and Granta. In his book Cultural Amnesia, critic Clive James named Heda Margolius Kovály one of the "necessary" writers of the twentieth century. Under A Cruel Star is widely read and studied at colleges and universities.

"A Jew in Czechoslovakia under the Nazis, Kovaly spent the war years in the Lodz ghetto and several concentration camps, losing her family and barely surviving herself. Returning to Prague at the end of the war, she married an old friend, a bright, enthusiastic young Jewish economist named Rudolf Margolius, who saw the country's only hope for the future in the Communist Party. Thereafter, Rudolf became deputy minister for foreign trade. For a time, the Margoliuses lived like royalty, albeit reluctantly, but then, in a replay of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Rudolf and others, mostly of Jewish background, were arrested and hung in the infamous Slansky Trial of 1952. Kovaly's memoir of these years that end with her emigration to the West after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 are a tragic story told with aplomb, humor and tenderness. The reader alternately laughs and cries as Kovaly describes her mother being sent to death by Dr. Mengele, Czech Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald drunk at a reception, the last sight of her husband, the feverish happiness of the Prague Spring. Highly recommended." — Publishers Weekly

Read here a Columbia Journalism Review piece about the book