Thankless Foreigner


IRENA BREŽNÁ, a Swiss writer, journalist and interpreter of Slovak origin, talked to the visitors of the fair not only about her book The Thankless Foreigner, but also about emigration, which she experienced first-hand. The meeting with Irena Brežná was interspersed with reading from her book The Thankless Foreigner which contains her own experiences from emigration.

"These are not my literal memories but rather my rendition of them," she explained. She and her family left Slovakia for Switzerland after 1968 and the first steps on the new, albeit free, land were not easy for her. She was young and she felt uprooted, cut off from friends, language and culture. "But Switzerland was generous to us, they accepted us collectively, we didn't have to prove individual persecution. We were welcomed refugees." 

Although she was and is grateful to Switzerland, she is also critical of it in her book. "I was worried about how the book would be accepted in Switzerland but at one meeting where I read from it, people laughed at certain passages and thanked me for holding up a mirror to them." Although she admits that there were also some negative reactions and misunderstanding with people pointing out how she dared to criticize Switzerland when it offered her a new home. 

She responded by saying that when her heroine criticized something, it did not mean that she was not happy in the host country. Nevertheless, The Thankless Foreigner was received mostly positively, which is evidenced by the Swiss Literature Award the author won for this book. Irena Brežná not only found a new and free home in Switzerland, but also a job. She was a writer but she also worked for the Swiss radio and became a reporter. "People often ask me if I found a new home in Switzerland. But when you lose something, you don't always have to find what you lost, you can also find something else," concluded Irena Brežná. "And I found my "something else" in Switzerland."