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A story for anyone who is always homesick for somewhere else.
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I Am a Brave Bridge recounts the Hinlicky family’s move to Svätý Jur, the first town out from Bratislava, in the signal year of 1993 when Slovakia became independent for the first time in its whole long history. While her parents made the move out of a serious commitment to rebuilding the Lutheran church after the recent fall of communism, Sarah had other plans in mind.
Her hope was that, after a childhood of feeling vaguely out of place no matter where she went, she’s find her true home in her ancestral land of Slovakia. And sure enough, she fell in love with the place straight away. But that love was greatly enhanced by discovering the added wonders of Slovak boys… who were just as enchanted with the new Američanka as she was with them. Linguistic and cultural barriers, however, guaranteed that the course of Sarah’s romance(s) would run anything but smooth.
I Am a Brave Bridge exults in the sheer absurdity of cross-cultural adolescent infatuation, but also digs deeply into Slovak history, linguistics, politics, and religion. Meditating on perfective verbs and Marxist architecture, central European feminism and American romanticism, finding one’s vocation and the perils of nationalism, I Am a Brave Bridge at long last gives the English-speaking world a portrait of Slovakia to enchant and delight.
Move over, Provence. Here comes Slovakia!
Sarah Hinlicky Wilson writes, walks, cooks, and podcasts in Tokyo, Japan, where she lives with her husband and son. She’s the founder of Thornbush Press, prolific author, and serves as Associate Pastor at Tokyo Lutheran Church.
Follow her work and sign up for her quarterly e-newsletter Theology & a Recipe at www.sarahhinlickywilson.com.
Listen to her podcast, now in season 3, “Queen of the Sciences: Conversations between a Theologian and Her Dad,” with Paul R. Hinlicky (her dad—you guessed it!).
In I Am a Brave Bridge Sarah Hinlicky Wilson chronicles the year she spent, aged seventeen, in the newly-independent Slovakia. She combines witty descriptions of grappling with Slovak grammar with wry observations on the country’s customs and history, highlighting the cultural differences between her U.S. homeland and the land of her paternal ancestors as it emerges from communist oppression. Wilson’s account of her teenage infatuation with a local boy echoes her enchantment with the country and the gradual process of understanding herself and finding her true vocation. A memoir, a coming-of-age story, and a love-letter to Slovakia rolled into one, this is an entertaining, informative and heartfelt introduction to a country that deserves to be better known and understood.
—Julia Sherwood, host of LitCast Slovakia and translator of Slovak literature
Sarah’s memoir of her adventures in the brand-new republic of Slovakia recalls a time of newness and curiosity, of a portal to the old world through the eyes of a wide-eyed American teenager. I was lucky to share a similar experience, moving to central Europe to live with my professor father in the summer of 1992. Slovakia during this time was a truly special place: communism had technically ended but consumerism was slow to make its cultural upheavals. The Slovak people were open, curious, and excited about the future, as much as two teenagers on the adventure of a lifetime. Sarah’s memoir brings back memories of incredible and overly generous home-cooked meals, genuine hospitality, now-laughable first heartbreaks: the sights, smells, and excitement of this unique time and place. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves Slovakia and is curious about central Europe during this time of great transition.
—Nick Balla, chef and author of James Beard Award-winning cookbook Bar Tartine
At one point while reading I Am a Brave Bridge, I turned to my wife and made her count on her fingers. Sure enough, she did it wrong. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson points out dozens of ways in which Slovaks and North Americans do things differently, and it was fascinating to read this culture shock in the reverse direction from my own experience. Over and over, I found myself laughing out loud and reading portions of the book to my wife, almost as if to say, at long last and with proof: “See, I’m not crazy. I’m just Slovak.” Wilson’s eye for small, often-hilarious cultural differences-not to mention the sheer lunacy of an American trying to learn Slovak grammar-made the book a joy to read. But she also captures a deeper existential commonality of many immigrants: the dislocated, in-between feeling of those of us for whom home will never again be a place and a given people. But there’s a trace, a form of nostalgia, that remains. Even if I’m no longer truly a Slovak, I do always have a bottle of home-made slivovica in the cupboard and the first thing I did after finishing I Am a Brave Bridge was pour two glasses. One for me, one for my car’s windshield wiper reservoir.
—Alexander Boldizar, author of The Ugly