Beginning this month, Expats.cz is going to introduce you to Czech writers whose work is available in English. To start out, we wanted to give you a brief overview of Czech writers in general. “Brief” is quite impossible, however, because not surprisingly there are many, many Czech writers. We narrowed the focus by choosing “newer” writers (those who wrote in the 20th century) and those who have at least a couple titles translated into English. Links correspond to the book on Amazon. If you are looking to explore further, stop in to Big Ben Bookstore. Their staff is quite knowledgeable about Czech writers and can find for you authors whose work is available in English. Penguin Classics also has a Central European Classics imprint which showcases ten books from Central European authors. This month we reviewed How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel.
Let´s begin our overview with the biggies: Czech writers whom most people know. These authors are easy to find in nearly all bookstores with an English language section.
Karel Čapek: One of the most influential Czech writers of the 20th century, he´s most famous for introducing the world “robot” into society – even though it was actually his brother Josef who coined the term. His works are considered speculative fiction.
Jaroslav Hašek: A humorist and satirist, Hašek was a journalist and wrote more than 1500 short stories.
- The Good Soldier Švejk and his Fortunes in the World War
- Bachura Scandal and Other Stories and Sketches
Václav Havel: Playwright, dissident and politician, Havel is best remembered for his role in the downfall of communism in Czechoslovakia and subsequently becoming president.
Bohumil Hrabal: An expressive and highly visual writer, his works are notoriously difficult to translate. Considered one of the best writers of the 20th century.
- Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age
- Closely Watched Trains
- I Served the King of England
- To Loud a Solitude
Franz Kafka: German language writer from Prague; his writing attracted little attention until after his death.
Ivan Klíma: Novelist and playwright Klima spent time in Terezin during WWII.
Pavel Kohout: A Czech novelist and poet; he was a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and expelled to Austria.
- White Book
- I am Snowing: The Confessions of a Woman of Prague
- The Widow Killer: A Novel
- The Hangwoman
Milan Kundera: Czech writer who has lived in exile in France since 1975; Kundera´s books consider a variety of philosophical themes.
Jaroslav Seifert: Nobel Prize winning writer, poet and journalist.
Some lesser known authors you may be interested in exploring:
Michal Ajvaz: An author in the “magic realism” style; in 2005 he won the Jaroslav Seifert Prize for Literary Achievement, the most prestigious literary award in the Czech Republic.
Eduard Bass: A singer, journalist and cabaret director, he was a former editor at Lidové noviny.
Max Brod: Mainly famous for being Franz Kafka´s best friend and the savior of his writings; Brod was also a writer himself.
Ladislav Fuks: Fuks wrote mainly psychological novels; he was very affected by the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Germans and his work reflects the despair people suffer.
Egon Hostovský: Influenced by his Jewish origin and exile, his books portray people who are forced to leave their counties and rediscover themselves.
Petra Hůlová: One of the youngest writers on this list, her debut novel was awarded Book of the Year by Lidové noviny and won a Magnesia Litera Prize as Discovery of the Year. This book is available in English.
Arnošt Lustig: This renowned Czech author left Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring, but has since returned. He´s been honored for his contributions to Czech culture with the Frank Kafka Prize, and two of his novels have been made into films: Dita Saxová and Night and Hope.
Josef Nesvadba: A science fiction writer.
Ota Pavel: Autobiographical and biographical author whose work focused on sports. A review of his book, How I Came to Know Fish is below.
Josef Škvorecký: This contemporary writer has spent most of his life in Canada. His books cover both the horror of repression and the expatriate experience. The Engineer of Human Souls Ordinary Lives The Swell Season Bass Saxophone
Jáchym Topol: A former samizdat writer and publisher, Topol is now a journalist and novel writer. Quite a few of his novels have been translated into English, but they´ll probably have to be specially ordered. They include City, Sister, Silve; Gargling with Tar and A Trip to the Train Station.
Ludvík Vaculík: Best known as the author of the “Two Thousand Word” manifesto written in June 1968, Vaculik has also written a number of novels.
Michal Viewegh: One of the best known Czech writers today.
How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel
How I Came to Know Fish is a sweet memoir about a man´s remembrances of his father. The chapters are short and each one simply relates an incident, sometimes involving the author, often just a story about his father. There isn´t really any story development, just a lovely string of memories. The stories are set right before the outbreak of World War II and then into World War II. Pavel´s father is Jewish, his mother, Christian and his father and two older brothers were sent to concentration camps. All miraculously returned alive.
The slim book could be completed in a few hours and is modest in its tone and content. Pavel shares poignant stories like the time, after the Nazis invaded, that he and his father stole fish from their own pond. One of Electrolux´s best vacuum cleaner salesmen, “Papa” was at once both a schemer and a charmer and many of the stories revolve around his escapades. The sentiments that come though are of a man who loves his family, and a boy who, at least at the beginning, had an idyllic childhood.
Pavel was a sports journalist who had a mental breakdown while covering the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck. He spent most of the rest of his life in mental hospitals, where he wrote this book. He died in 1973.