Surname Saturday – Vesely

20 Aug

Happy Saturday! This post is less of a surname post and more of a book review post. Last night I finished reading, Journey A Novel of America by James M. Vesely. As I read parts of this book I smiled, I laughed, I cried, and thought a lot about my family.

Vesely takes the reader on a journey with the Novak family, Janicka, Valentyn, Josef, and Ondrej, from Trebon, Bohemia, to Chicago and Montana. The family leaves their small home in Trebon and makes their way to Hamburg via train. They sail on the Graf Waldersee to America. Josef meets a young woman named Lia on the ship and the two become good friends. She is “taken” into the family at Ellis Island so she will not be denied entrance as a single young woman.

Once the family and Lia pass through Ellis Island, they take another train to Chicago. Lia meets her Aunt Emilka and the Novak family meets Janicka’s brother Matek. Lia is later saved from a whorehouse by Josef when he discovers her aunt sold her off. Lia and Josef marry and stay in Chicago. Ondrej had a dream of becoming a farmer. Their tiny plot in Trebon, which the family would never own, was not enough for him. Ondrej wanted to be his own master and farm his own land.

Vesely takes the reader through the years and a few generations of the Novak family. The story eventually splits into a Chicago story and Montana story going on at the same time after seven years after the family immigrates. Ondrej makes his way to Montana and begins a homestead. Josef remains in Chicago and eventually runs and owns his own saloon, then restaurant when prohibition starts, then a saloon again.

I am familiar with many major Czech events in Chicago and Vesely makes the Novak family experience many of those. The family enjoys picnics in Pilsen Park, they were on the Eastland when the boat tipped and Janicka and Valentyn lose their lives and then are buried in Bohemian National Cemetery, then World War I hits. What is interesting is Josef and Lia have a son named Michael. Michael was drafted and sent to fight in France. He was killed and buried there. In my family, our Michael Kokoska died in France, was buried there but later his remains were brought to Bohemian National Cemetery.  The family experiences the stock market crash, prohibition, the depression, the movement of Czech families from Pilsen out toward the suburbs. The children and grandchildren growing, going to college, becoming very modern. And of course Vesely sprinkles in a great deal of discussion on Czech food which makes your mouth water and makes you hungry for kolacky, roast pork and dumplings and sauerkraut. Yum!

Josef and Ondrej both grow old and experience many of life’s hardships. Through it all they have family and neighbors to rely on.

As I read this book I started to think a lot about my Czech families who came across and settled in Chicago. Now I need to write down these major themes and certain things about the book and start to analyze my families and try to discover more of their story.

What stories will you discover today? Do you know of any other books like this that talk about the Czechs and Chicago? Please post the title and author in the comments. I’d love to read more!

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2 responses to “Surname Saturday – Vesely

    • James M. Vesely

      September 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

      Dear Mr. Novak;

      I am Jim Vesely, the author of “Journey: A Story of America” and I stumbled upon your review of my novel while surfing the Internet. In reading your review, I sensed that you enjoyed the book. I hope I’m correct. Happy readers mean everything to an author. In any case, thank you for the review and if you’d like your book signed, contact me at and I’ll forward you my address. Send me your copy, I’ll be happy to sign it and send it back to you.

      Thanks again,

      Jim Vesely


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