Remembering Pavel Vilikovský

Photo of Pavel Vilikovsky by Lucia Gardin

Pavel Vilikovský (June 27th, 1941 – February 10th, 2020)

photo by Lucia Gardin

He was able to think about [the theme of what is reality] like no one else; he could be sentimental and never stopped viewing sentiment as the most important part of how a person functions, whether in communicating with others or with the world. He was able to rationalize it, to think about it analytically. To analyze sentiment. Before him no one else had managed that in Slovak literature, no one had even come close. Irony and humor go hand in hand with rationalization, and he was capable of those too. He could be funny while talking about serious emotions. He crafted his words very carefully; often they became a theme of his writing. The narrator would say something, but immediately correct himself — this needs to be said differently. It showed the importance of language, and how if we allow words not to have meaning, we lose something important in life. He was a person with the friendliest smile in the world. At the same time an incredibly humble and pleasant person. Spending time with him was a delight; he stood out in every crowd, but at the same time he was quiet and inconspicuous.

— Peter Darovec, literary critic

He personified nobility, charisma, self-irony, as well as humility, spirit, civility, and decency. Respect of language, talent, the courage to write differently. He was the best of what Slovak prose had and has to offer.

— Daniela Kapitáňová, author

I had great respect for Pavel Vilikovský, and I always felt anxious before a meeting with him, but he immediately dispelled it with his directness, self-irony, and unaffected talking. He was an excellent author and a perfect gentleman. Just being in his presence was an experience. He hated pathos, and I expect he would start apologizing for attracting so much attention by his death.

— Dado Nagy, journalist

For me, Pavel Vilikovský was as good a painter as he was a writer. In fact, first I put on an exhibit of his watercolors, and only after that did I do the graphic design for his books; using his artwork, of course.

— František Jablonovský, painter

In his humility he tried to dissuade us from turning Fleeting Snow into a play. He said it had no conflict worthy of the stage. We didn’t find it among his characters, because it was hidden inside of them.

— Juraj Nvota, director

We have very few geniuses in Slovakia, and we don’t value the ones we have the way we should, and Mr. Vilikovský was one of them. His works helped me achieve inner peace. I’ve not experienced that with any other text. They contain a lot of wisdom and humor, but one has to be able to interpret them.

— Andy Hajdu, actor

He is an author of the full emotional spectrum. During the times when emotions were being prescribed and camouflaged, he wrote in emotional grimaces and caricatures about emotional emptiness, anemia, and absence. During the times when people said that there are no feelings or that they belong to the realm of marketing, he began to write about the need for feelings at a time of emotional anesthesia and complete insensitivity.

— Peter Zajac, literary critic

Paľko was funny, wisely ironic, self-deprecating, humble, exact, eloquent, briskly analytical, always going after nouns and things, amiable, brilliant, and fabulous. We write all this clumsily, with sadness and grief, quickly and in fragments, with a feeling of total loss. We were lucky to have been his friends, that he was our friend; we were lucky to have been able to read his books, that we were able to see each other, to spend time together. Paľko, thanks for everything.

— Dušan Dušek and Tomáš Janovic, authors

Remembering an uncommon person, humble, thoughtful, perceptive, who taught us to pause as we read, at a word, at a sentence. He carved them like stone. They are in his books and will remain with us. Thank you for everything.

— Marta Šáteková, bookseller

I am deeply touched by his death and deeply grateful for those long fifty-five years of life we had spent in friendly conversation – whether it was daily during our younger years in our jobs, or later with a little less frequency at all possible occasions; especially at our regular Friday family canasta nights. He often inspired me, and I hope that once in a while I inspired him too. I must admit, I didn’t have many friends like Pavel Vilikovský. Honor to his memory.

— Milan Šútovec, literary critic

The canon of one of the most prominent Slovak writers has been closed. The value of his work is in capturing the microcosm of official and unofficial interpersonal relationships, which in many ways almost imperceptibly dictate the direction of society. He was able to enter everyday, banal situations, and then, with the grace of a calm English gentleman at a pool table, to masterfully move them toward unexpected conclusions.

— Ladislav Snopko, producer

If every time a writer died and all his books disappeared by some sinister twist of fate, there would be a huge gap on my bookshelves. Fleeting Snow would vanish and so would The Thrill Is Gone, the best books written in recent years, not just the best by Pavel Vilikovský but by anyone. The older this modest and wise man grew, the better his writing became. Naively, I hoped that he would go on forever.

— Balla, writer

Pavel was exceptional. It is rare for someone so wise to be so extremely modest and demanding of himself as he was. I greatly admired the friendly, kind and disarmingly generous way this giant treated those around him. Not many people know that he was not just a wonderful writer but also a great painter. Not just his books, but his paintings, too, have a soul.

— Peter Chalupa, publisher

He was a writer of European stature, a true member of the intellectual elite.

— Milan Lasica, humourist, actor, director

What I admired in Pavel Vilikovský was his analytical talent and humour combined with the kind of humbleness known only by the most true-hearted people who have touched the mystery of life.

— Dušan Hanák, film director

Once, when I praised his novel A Dog on the Road, he remarked quietly that he was nothing but a ‘socialist realist’. We both knew that this wasn’t true, that it was just his decency, modesty and bashfulness that made it difficult for him to accept praise. He had an extraordinary talent evenly balanced with integrity, a combination that cannot be taken for granted in Slovakia. Pavel, we miss you already.

— Viliam Klimáček, writer and playwright

Pavel Vilikovský has left us like ‘fleeting snow’. Suddenly his gentle smile and grace when meeting friends and acquaintances is gone; the way he approached people, always joyous and respectful, revealing that he was just as vulnerable and inward looking as the protagonists of his recent books.

— Gabriela Rakúsová, literary critic

Pavel Vilikovský was our most important and most translated writer, whose books and charisma garnered him scores of admirers. He was known for the modest and detached way in which he accepted tributes, awards and publicity, as I witnessed many times. I will keep returning to his books for their unconventional approach, their wit, irony, humour, and wisdom.

— Katarína Kucbelová, writer

He wasn’t a man of many words, more given to thinking and reflection. His books are like that, too — every word, every name, every sentence has its place, its justification and role in the text. No fillers or complicated stylistic acrobatics, as he no longer felt the need to shock or outshine anyone, just the need to think and write. Otherwise, as he once said, he would have had to climb up the wall.

— Monika Kompaníková, writer

He was a precious friend, a courageous, noble human being, a man who took his responsibilities seriously as he explored the recesses of our souls. A brilliant European writer cultivating our responsiveness to writing as well as to life.

— Ivan Štrpka, poet

He has been and is likely to remain, my favourite Slovak writer and I consider myself lucky to have been able to meet him from time to time. We would talk about completely ordinary things — books, pipes, dogs — but for me each time it was a special occasion. I am sure that from now on, whenever I read his books, I will see his smile and be even more struck by their urgency.

— Marek Vadas, writer

Pavel Vilikovský taught us to read Slovak prose without prejudice, to savour language. He didn’t build his stories sky-high, as he was more interested in exploring their hidden recesses and underground depths. He allowed sentences to breathe and endowed the Slovak language with an intelligent voice without intellectualising. He could be witty between two intakes of breath. Gentle to very the limits of the self-preservation instinct.

— Silvester Lavrík, writer

Few writers manage to comment on, and subvert, Slovak conditions with such sophistication and detachment, while being able to write about love, dying, memory loss, and a variety of human foibles with great wisdom and empathy as Pavel Vilikovský. He found a way of blending all these elements and giving them an original literary form, while playing with language and speaking to the reader in his inimitable voice, which will be sorely missed in Slovak literature.

— Julia Sherwood, translator

What I loved doing best with Pavel Vilikovský was laughing. He was able to laugh without the customary, hidden malevolence. What a rotten day! Why? Because it has allowed the world to be deprived of a beautiful human being. Fortunately, he has left us the gift of his works.

— Juraj Mojžíš, film and art critic would like to express our gratitude to the original publishers of these tributes to Pavel Vilikovský for allowing us to include them here in English.

© Mullek and Sherwood