NZ 'clan' links spawn book idea

Czech-born novelist, journalist and lecturer Juan Braun (left) catches up with his uncle, Jerry Sigmond, in South Dunedin on Saturday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Czech-born novelist, journalist and lecturer Juan Braun (left) catches up with his uncle, Jerry Sigmond, in South Dunedin on Saturday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Czech-born novelist, journalist and lecturer Juan Braun has written 30 books and sold hundreds of thousands of copies while tackling some of life's great mysteries - love, politics and spirituality.

Now he's turning his attention further south, to New Zealand, while on a trip to Dunedin to renew family links.

Dr Braun, aged in his 60s, has been in Dunedin for the past week catching up with his uncle, Jerry Sigmond (85).

The trip to Dunedin was part of a month-long tour of New Zealand to visit members of his 700-strong ''clan'' of relatives spread across the country, he said.

That included Mr Sigmond, whom he had promised to visit when the pair were last together - 16 years ago in Prague, Dr Braun said.

''I promised him that I would one day come to New Zealand. I didn't give him a date and I took 16 years, but finally I said `all right'.''

Such were the family connections, he had already started to sketch the beginnings of a new book exploring his family history in New Zealand, Dr Braun told the Otago Daily Times.

His parents and other family members were among those who fled Czechoslovakia when the communists seized power in 1948, and while some stayed in Europe, others moved as far away as Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Dr Braun said he planned to explore those links, including possible connections between his relatives and two former United States presidents - George Washington and John F. Kennedy.

However, he already had one thing in his favour for his genealogical quest.

''As a novelist, I can make things happen,'' he said.

Some of Dr Braun's previous works mixed historical figures, fact and fiction, including explorations of what - really - killed Argentina's former first lady, Eva Peron, and a romance between guerrilla leader Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara and an opera singer in Prague in 1966.

Others delved into erotic fiction, tales of romantic liaisons and spirituality, mixed with Dr Braun's other work as a university lecturer and journalist while based in Prague, where he lived for six months of each year.

The rest of his time was spent travelling to one of the 188 countries he has visited to date, and he was pleased to finally add New Zealand to the list.

''When I look at the map, you are too far, but I'm a traveller.''

Dr Braun also took time out while in Dunedin to visit another Czech-born writer, Dr Jindra Ticha, who fled the communists 40 years ago and also settled in Dunedin.

Dr Ticha was last year voted the 11th most influential Czech expatriate in a list of 20 selected by the Czech public, to officially recognise the contribution of Czechs who left the country during the communist era.

She was the only Australasian to make the list from the two million Czechs living abroad, joining luminaries such as tennis great Martina Navratilova and former United States secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Dr Braun said he was impressed with New Zealand's scenery, but not with the country's high food prices. He expected to have a first draft of his new book completed within four months, and the results published sometime next year, when it would be translated from Spanish - the language he preferred to write in - to English.

Dr Braun travelled to Christchurch yesterday and was due to leave New Zealand for his next destinations, Thailand and Myanmar, this week.

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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