The exile whose only creed is culture

Born in Prague, Monika Zgustova went into exile with her parents in the US when she was 15 years old. / rc

This writer and translator has reading and art as sacred commandments. The TV is for her a piece of furniture. Cooking relaxes him. Tai chi and yoga help her relax, as well as stepping on the beach

Antonio Paniagua

Monika Zgustova (Prague, 1957) is a writer and one of the great translators from Czech to Spanish. Gifted with the gift of languages, she has poured into Castilian Milan Kundera, Václav Havel and Jaroslav Seifert, among many others. He has suffered exile twice: his parents fled Prague with the Soviet invasion of the country in 1968 and settled in the United States, a country from which he left as soon as he could. He found his place in Barcelona, ​​a city he loves as much as the Catalan. He loves the music of Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart and the paintings of Vermeer, Matisse and Piero della Francesca. Walking along the beach and getting lost in the gardens are two of his favorite occupations. If something throws her off center, tai chi, yoga and swimming solve it. Soon it will deliver to the printer ‘We looked better in the dark’ (Galaxia Gutenberg).


7:30 a.m. I like to wake up between seven and eight. First thing in the morning I feel like reading the news in bed on my mobile phone. I get up and do some tai chi or yoga, have breakfast – usually some toast with butter and jam, accompanied by green tea – and get to work. People think that here in Catalonia everyone has tumaca bread for breakfast, and no, it is something that is usually eaten with salads, cheeses and sausages.

9:30 a.m. Before I start writing, regardless of whether it is a book or an article, I walk or swim, activities that help me focus. I am lucky to live near the beach, in Sitges. Walking along the shore is a real pleasure. I also do it through the archaeological ruins, the hills and among the vineyards. Although I am an urbanite and I love walking around cities, I need the countryside.

12:30 p.m. I spend a lot of time translating. I recommend that people who want to write translate, it is something that gives many tables and is even more useful than going to a creative writing school. For essays and articles I use Catalan, Spanish and English, while for fiction books I use Czech. I’m also good with Russian and French, but I’m not as fluent in them.


9:00 a.m. I was born in Prague. When I was 15 years old, my parents made the decision to go into exile. In 1968 the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and we ended up settling in the US I could settle in any South American or Asian country before there, where people live so exaggeratedly under the impact of religion. I wanted to go back to Europe, I visited some friends I had in Barcelona and I really liked the city. I arrived in Spain, I think, in 1984. I didn’t know the language and I didn’t have any money, friends or work. It was like a second exile, although I had chosen the country. I had bad times and depressions. But little by little I got ahead and now I live completely adapted in Sitges, which is like a neighborhood in Barcelona.

3:30 p.m. Now I am reading the latest Nobel Prize for Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnak. After lunch and dinner I like to give myself a good reading time, which is a good way as well as for me to come up with ideas. Sometimes when I wake up, instead of checking the news, I read poetry.

7:00 p.m. Sometimes I watch movies on the computer screen, but I love going to the cinema, having the complicity of other viewers is a different experience. Going to the movie theater represents a ritual, not only to see the film itself, but also to go to dinner afterwards and discuss the film with someone.


2:00 p.m. I like to cook for friends. It is very creative and relaxing to prepare dishes from different countries, not necessarily Czech. I love Mexican and Asian food. If I do well, I feel proud.

6:30 p.m. I have cousins ​​in the Czech Republic that I still see. When a family goes into exile, sometimes it ends up dispersing because there is no longer a place that really belongs to them. That’s what has happened to mine a bit. My brother, for example, is in Japan.

10:30 p.m. When I get home, I put on classical or jazz music. I never turn on the TV, which for me is just another piece of furniture, to the point that the other day I even thought about taking it down to the basement for good. If anything, on occasion, I watch La Sexta, but very little.


12.00 noon. I have proposed to know in depth the different cultures. Traveling to the United Arab Emirates, where Spain was the guest country at the Book Fair, opened my eyes. I discovered that Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, published our writers, not only the classics, but those of today. I saw wonderful exhibitions of European photographers. I realized that they knew everything about us, they knew our culture, they had translated Marguerite Yourcenar, Marguerite Duras…, they were more interested in us than we were in them. We judge cultures that we do not know.

1:00 p.m. I would like to travel to India, that is where my parents went when they left Czechoslovakia and asked for asylum at the American embassy. My good friend José María Ridao is an ambassador there. I really want to get to know Syria, even though many places are in ruins because of the war. Now I have a good excuse to go because a publisher in Damascus is going to translate and publish some of my books.

6:00 p.m. I am fascinated by art, I often go to contemporary art exhibitions and also ancient art. It is something that makes me live and vibrate.


11:30 a.m. For me, spirituality consists of reading a book of poetry or a philosophical work. That is as spiritual as professing a religion. When they ask me if I have any, I say culture, because it is what gives meaning to my life.

5:30 p.m. Most of my American friends are Jewish, perhaps because the exodus is present in their family tradition because their grandparents came to the US fleeing World War II. That makes them more open. Instead, the thought of other people, no matter how far they travel, remains motionless.

6:00 p.m. Spain has cities with beautiful historic centers. Wherever you go, to big cities or small places, you find wonderful places. Andalusia and Salamanca are full of beauty. Even lesser known places, like Barbastro, have great charm. Strolling through the Generalife gardens is an unforgettable experience. Getting lost in the Retiro is not such an extraordinary spectacle, but observing the passing of the seasons, seeing the chestnut trees in bloom… it is fascinating.

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The exile whose only creed is culture