Prague, Beyond Kafka

July 13, 2010 — Leave a comment

One nice thing about being in Prague is that I can find easily Czech books in English translations. So, while I visited Kafka’s museum and statues and bookshop (in the space where his father kept his shop), and even ate as the Franz Kafka Cafe, I also bought three new (to me) books by Czech authors — all beautifully made from Twisted Spoon Press.

I, City by Pavel Brycz

This book tells the episodic, meditative “story” of the city of Most in the Czech Republic through the voice of the city.

It reminds me of the dreamy, imagistic, sometimes overly earnest but utterly engaging voice(s) of Jean Toomer’s Cane.

From “an appearance, grave”:

Some appearances people would gladly forbear. I understand. No one wants to be buried alive. Luckily, the dead don’t seem to care. Or do they? Do they come back, dead among the living, perhaps even in an altered appearance, to carry out their cruel jokes? Do they return?

Yes, they do. I, city, saw a dead man, who came back twice, and in altered appearance, to interfere in the fate of his son.

Of Kids and Parents by Emil Hakl

A father and son walk through Prague, stop in pub after pub, and tell each otherstories of visits to the doctor, dead stepfathers, mistaking an ex-girlfriend’s daughter for the ex-girlfriend, drunken exploits at weddings, etc.

Aside from the sad view of women that the characters have (esp. the father), it’s an intimate and sweet book of their individual lives and shared relationship. And I adore the voice of the grumpy father who knows birds by their calls and debates with his son about models of aircraft.

And of course, this book of walking and talking reminds me of Ten Walks, Two Talks, a book I sort of dismissed out of hand a while ago, as it sounded like a dull project, but which has gotten all sorts of good press. Which means I was probably wrong, as usual.

from “Why the Crew of the Kursk Couldn’t Escape on its Own”:

‘Then there’s fish fillet,’ I said.

‘Ah, fish fillet!’ Father bellowed at the whole room, staring out at the clouds with a painful expression on his face, ‘but it should say what kind of fish…’

‘What kind of fish!’ I said under my breath, ‘the kind that swims in water!’

‘Ah, but it’s not that simple…’ Father smiled, ‘could be Alaskan cod or sea bass, could be hake, Merluccius merluccius, or seawolf, Anarhicas lupus…Oh well, never mind, it’ll probably be cod or haddock…’

‘Most likely.’

‘Well, don’t get upset, I’ll have the fish fillet.’

The Transformations of Mr. Hadliz by Ladislav Novak

A short, quirky surrealist text – brief episodes/interpretations of Novak’s own froissage art, made from crumpling a piece of paper and using the lines to create images. According to the info in the back of the book (I love that Twisted Spoon Press includes extensive contextual info), he made the images a couple decades ago and then more recently “interpreted” them. The images are printed in full color next to the corresponding text. Lovely.

from “Mr. Hadliz as a Plaything for Those Condemned to Death”:

We are all condemned to death. Mr. Hadliz is well aware of this. (Only we often don’t realize it; we forget…) Clowning and dissimulating, he invites us to have fun with him. To make our forgetting even more profound? To easily get us under his control? Under no circumstances should trust him too much.

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