The Great Return by Zuzana Palovic is an inspiring and informational book which shares a unique perspective on the Central European country of Slovakia and its diverse people. It briefly explores the history of Slovakia and how it has shaped its people, going on to explore the circumstances which led some citizens of Slovakia to leave their native country – whether it be to study, to broaden their horizons, to gain knowledge and experience, or, in the past, to escape the unfortunate circumstances which gripped the country and to seek political asylum.
It also features a variety of interviews with Slovaks who left their homeland at some point in their lives, only to return later, with new insights and perspectives.
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.” — Anthony Bourdain
This book is comprised of brief interviews with Slovaks who left their native country of Slovakia only to return to their homeland, with new skills, memories, and broader perspectives. While each of the stories have different protagonists, many of them tell the same story; one of change, of new experience, and, in the end, of return.
It reveals some interesting, and at times surprising, reasons behind why one would leave their native country, and perhaps even more importantly, what would compel them to return; for some it is a sense of community or of belonging, for others it is a desire to give back to the country of their birth and to contribute, for others still, a quest for opportunity, and for a few, perhaps even a certain nostalgia.
Each of the interview-like segments are accompanied by striking full color portraits by photographer Zuzana Burdanova, which you can see in the photographs of the book below.
In the beginning of the book, the author also shares her journey in a touching piece entitled From behind the Iron Curtain to The New World in which she writes of how being exiled from Slovakia changed the course of her life and impacted her views and personality.
“In many ways and in spite of being a small child, I lost my fear of the unknown.” – Zuzana Palovic
Many people who have lived abroad share this view: it seems that facing the unknown is directly related to overcoming a fear of it. Perhaps we cannot fear something once we have understood it.
The book also includes an interesting, albeit brief, section on migration in which the author examines the various reasons and circumstances which might lead an individual to leave their native country.
“Since the beginning of time, human beings have moved across land and water in search of something.” – Zuzana Palovic
It explores the history of Slovakia and how it has shaped its citizen and how a history of communist rule and of being occupied affected the public. The book also explores why people might wish to return to their home-country.
“People come and go from their family nest and native soil, numerous times throughout their lifespan. We may return home because times are bad and we need respite, or because times are good and we now seek a greater purpose in our life.” – Zuzana Palovic
Although the reasons behind why they left Slovakia in the first place vary, the individuals in the book are all united by a common quality: they have all lived a portion of their lives abroad, and yet they have all returned to their homeland.
“We want to return to our native tribe and land, because we want to contribute to the lives of those we feel are closest to our hearts.” – Zuzana Palovic
Based on the book, it seems that the numbers of those who leave their homeland and later return to it, is growing.
“All over the world, migration scholars are finding that international migration journeys are becoming a lot more cyclical.” – Zuzana Palovic
I suppose that sometimes we must leave something behind in order to recognize its true value. Perhaps what people say about only recognizing something’s value after you have lost it – or in this case, left it – is true.
The interesting thing about The Great Return is how it exposes a common link between so many different people, bringing them together through their common journeys of discovery and of return. Sometimes they left for opportunity, and other times because conditions outside of their control forced them too, but regardless of the reason, they always returned to their homeland, changed by time and by their various experiences.
“All these experiences and struggles helped to make me the person I am today. They awakened in me my unique strengths, abilities and competencies that may have stayed dormant had I never left Slovakia.” – Zuzana Palovic
The incredible thing about human beings is their ability to adapt and to change as the need arises. Change is almost always a catalyst for growth. Sometimes people need to leave home in order to grow; in order to expand their horizons and to learn, but they often also have to return, as Odysseus returned to his beloved Ithaca in Homer’s famous poem The Odyssey.
“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.” — Kahlil Gibran
This book is an inspiring read for anyone who wishes to learn more about the people of Slovakia, about the spirit of discovery and of homecoming, and about the unique human tendencies which so often conflict with each other; those of leaving and returning, of simultaneously seeking change and growth as well as familiarity and belonging, and of discovery as well connection.
You can purchase a copy of The Great Return by Zuzana Palovic here.