Novelist, dramatist, scriptwriter, translator. He emigrated in 1969 and now lives in Prague, though he often returns to America. His books have been translated into several languages. He is the recipient of major literary prizes including the Magnesia Litera for book of the year (2004) and the Josef Škvorecký Award (2007), as well as the Carl Sandburg Award for Chicago authors, and the Friends of Literature Award. He was born in Kolín on 4 April 1953.
He made his debut when he was in exile with the short stories Striptease Chicago (Sixty-Eight Publishers, Toronto, 1983). The plot for the novel Milionový jeep (The Willys Dream Kit, Harcourt Brace, 1985, in Czech by Atlantis, 1992) is also partly autobiographical. As was the case with Novák’s father, the main character also embezzles money in order to emigrate. Novák was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award and the Friends of Literature Award for the novel.
The book Samet a pára (Velvet and Steam, originally Sixty-Eight Publishers, Toronto, 1992, and Atlantis, 1992) describes the experiences of an emigré who returns to his homeland for a class reunion during the time of the Velvet Revolution. He was awarded the Carl Sandburg Award for factual literature for the book Komouši, grázlové, cikáni, fízlové & básníci (Commies, Crooks, Gypsies, Spooks and Poets, Torst, 1997) about living for a year in Czechoslovakia with his family at the start of the 1990s.
His most substantial book to date is his novelistic treatment of the controversial story of the Mašín brothers, Zatím dobrý (So Far, So Good, Petrov, 2004), which was awarded a Magnesia Litera. “The way in which Novák constructs his epic novel is very skilful and engaging – the tension is increased using simple sentences one after the other, in places there is almost purely dialogue, whilst there are occasional indications of what is to follow. The author knows how to play with the reader, he reveals to them what he knows and then goes off in a different direction, indulges himself in a digression so that he can return to the main story with extra gusto. His narrative style is ‘fast’ – just like an escape or a sudden capture,” wrote Marta Ljubková in a review for iLiteratura.cz.
There then followed the book Děda (Grandpa, Bookman, 2007) and another prize, this time the Josef Škvorecký Award. It is the autobiographical story of a family which loses their farm after the February coup of 1948, and is narrated by the grandson who retrospectively describes the life of his grandfather. “He then presents key historical events from a different view to that of his earlier ‘classic’ social novels: liberation is presented through a scene where the Mongolian Red Army steals the grandfather’s beloved horse, the village Communists are incapable drunkards and the subsequent collectivization seals the village’s fate. After an unsuccessful attempt at resistance, the grandfather finally becomes an employee on his own farm, though he never manages to come to terms with the situation,” wrote Marta Fialová in her review of the book.
The novella Aljaška (Alaska, Plus, 2011) and the novel Hic a kosa v Chicagu (Sweltering and Freezing in Chicago, Plus, 2011) are again set in Novák’s second home of Chicago and deal with his experiences as an emigré. The second of these books also contains Novák’s famous short-story debut, Striptease Chicago, arranged “chronologically” along with the other stories from America.
Novák has also written film scripts, one of the most outstanding being for Miloš Forman’s Valmont. He also wrote the script for Vladimír Michálek’s film Báječná léta pod psa (Bliss Was It In Bohemia) based on Michal Viewegh’s novel, and he worked with David Ondříček on the film Šeptej (Whisper). He is the co-author of the films Občan Havel jede na dovolenou (Citizen Havel Goes On Vacation) and Občan Havel přikuluje (Citizen Havel is Rolling the Empty Barrels). He has also translated several of Havel’s plays into English and has written several of his own plays (Aljaška [Alaska], Vražda sekerou ve Sv. Petěrburgu [An Axe Murder in St Petersburg]). He has published several interviews, including his conversations with John Bok and Miloš Forman.