The Czech Magnesia Litera award for the book of the year has gone to Michal Ajvaz for his novel Lucemburská zahrada (The Luxembourg Gardens). The novel is about a teacher in Paris named Paul who enters some kind of fantasy world where an unknown language is spoken when he accidentally types a word he hadn’t meant to on his computer. His subsequent adventures take him around the world to New York, Moscow, the Caribbean and Sicily.
The winner of the best book in translation was Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française.
Literary festival mania
Literary events in Prague this month are not confined to the sphere of Czech literature but have a broader international scope with two major festivals about to start. On April 14 the Prague Writers’ Festival starts with a lineup of writers that includes Juan Goytisolo, Arnon Grunberg, Anita Desai and Hanif Kureishi among others. Czech writers participating in the festival include Emil Hakl, Martin Vopěnka and, by way of Paris, Patrik Ouředník.
Besides the usual conversations and author readings the festival will open with a pair of films – Venus, which starts Peter O’Toole and was scripted by Hanif Kureishi as well as Tirza, based on the novel of the same name by Arnon Grunberg. The theme of this year’s festival is “Only the future exists.”
Expect to see some interviews and other coverage of the festival – especially if a gray-haired literary eminence pontificates to a group of American college students with a reference to their sex lives in a language they don’t understand and don’t bother to listen to a translation of.
April 16 will see the start of the third Kafka/Borges Biennale – Praha/Buenos Aires. This year’s festival is dedicated to two giants of their respective literary scenes that died last year – Arnošt Lustig and Ernesto Sábato. María Kodama de Borges, the writer’s widow, will be in attendance, as will Sábato’s son (who I pictured as a young, up-and-coming filmmaker but who is actually 67 years old – which makes sense since his father was just a few months short of 100 when he died). There will be a screening of Mario Sábato’s documentary about his father, a photo exhibition called “Borges’ Atlas” as well as some interesting looking discussions.
Photo – by Petr Machan of a panel discussion from the 2011 Prague Writers’ Festival with Werner Lambersy, Michel Deguy, Nedim Gursel and moderator Denis Molcanov.