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Summary Article: Novak, Michael (1933-)
from The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature

Slovak American novelist and prolific writer on philosophical, religious, and socioeconomic topics. His activity in ethnic affairs and studies has concerned not only Slovaks but other nationalities and involved him in government and diplomatic activities at the national and international level. Since 1978 Novak has been at the American Enterprise Institute where he is currently the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy and also Director of Social and Political Studies.

Novak has published two novels. The Tiber Was Silver (1961) presents what it would be like for an American to study for the priesthood in Rome from winter 1956 through spring 1957. Richard McKay is an Irish American from Gary, Indiana, who is pursuing theological studies as a member of an international religious congregation. During the months of the novel, Richard grapples to understand his relationships with fellow seminarians, be true to himself with his spiritual advisor, assess his interactions with senior members of his religious congregation, and evaluate his feelings for a young Irish American woman, attracted to being a painter like Richard himself. Although McKay explores who he is in the ambience of pre-Vatican II (1962-65) Catholic society and culture, by the end of the novel he is ordained a priest. In sharp contrast is Naked I Leave (1970). Slovak American Jon/Jonathan Svoboda has left a Catholic seminary and during the many months of the novel completes his doctorate in English at Columbia University, supporting himself as a journalist especially during the early months of the Catholic Church ecumenical council, Vatican II. Against the background of interactions with family, various friends, and acquaintances experiencing their own turmoil and crises unfold Jon’s sexual liaisons with four women. Jon even becomes involved in some Eastern European political intrigue. Like St. Jerome, whose “nakedness” at birth and death exemplifies his strong desire to be “naked”—his essential self—before God, Jon is by the end utterly himself before God and the reader but no closer to the genuine feminine love he so craves. The novel’s concluding marker—”end of the beginning”—is a dubious endpoint in Jon Svoboda’s life.

The Guns of Lattimer (1978) is a mostly nonfiction narrative on the massacre of unarmed miners—mostly Slovak, Polish, Lithuanian—near Hazelton, Pennsylvania, on September 10, 1897, and the subsequent trial through March 9, 1898. In this peaceful march to Lattimer Mines with a call for a strike, nineteen miners are killed and at least thirty-nine wounded. The fifty-two verses of “Ballad of the Deputies” from the Hazelton Daily Standard of Sept. 17, 1897, introduce and set the tone for this catastrophe fostered by a lack of cultural understanding and poor communication between the opposing sides that anger and fear helped ignite into an historical tragedy. Novak’s passionate Slovak ethnic interest and talent have effected an engaging account of a terrible happening through which the ethnic American miners finally have their voice heard. (See also Slovak American Literature)

Gerald J. Sabo
Copyright © 2005 by Emmanuel S. Nelson