I recently had the pleasure of hearing Prague-based writer Thor Garcia read from his most recent novel Only Fools Die of Heartbreak. Now the Czech Literature Portal has an interview with Garcia in which he talks about the mythical early 90s, his journalism and writing, Czech culture and “drab” American fiction.
Having just written about a novel set in the Prague of the 90s, it is nice to see this place and time described so well – “a blowjob-crazy town” where it was possible to live in a “constant state of drunkenness, women and wonder.” Then, after building up the romance of the era, he brings it back to earth: “It was crap, of course, but it was a seductive illusion.”
There are a lot of great quotes throughout.
On contemporary fiction: “How many more books do we need about the intrigues of American universities or the foolhardy and ironic imaginations of U.S. professors? How many more about the tribulations of French wives and their disappointing love lives in cold Brittany? How many more about the confusions of Englishmen written by confused Englishmen in cloudy England? Not many.”
On the disconnect between expats and the major social transformations taking place around them: “For many Czechs, of course, it was a time of uncertainty and struggle, general consternation. You respected that, you honored it, but it wasn’t really a part of your life. It was impossible to relate to it much, even if you had a Czech girlfriend or boyfriend. You were cruising at a different speed. Maybe that makes us horrible people, the worst sort of imperialist swine, privileged fuckers. There’s an argument there.”
The self-censorship of Erich Kästner
Author of Emil and the Detectives and Fabian, Erich Kästner had the seeming luxury to opt not to leave Germany when Hitler took power. Spiegel Online has an article on how the Nazi book burnings, which included Kästner’s work (and included him as an onlooker until someone recognized him) and the compromises he needed to make to stay had a long-term effect of quashing the spirit that animated his work.
Polish and other Central European writers
On That Other Word podcast writer and translator Esther Kinsky talks about a mix of somewhat known and translated and almost unknown and still to be translated Polish writers. Author of the unbelievable A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising Miron Białoszewski is the first writer she mentioned. If you haven’t read it it’s unlike any other war memoir I’ve ever read. Kinsky translated the book and is interesting speaking about what makes it so unique.
Other writers mentioned include Wiesław Myśliwski, Zygmunt Haupt, Joanna Bator and many more. She also talks about Hungarian literature being underrepresented in English translation, which adds a whole new list of hard to spell names you now have to remember and, hopefully (once you master Polish or Hungarian) translate their work.
The podcast covers a lot of other great stuff ranging from Italo Calvino’s Letters to Kafka and Curzio Malaparte.
Photo – Miron Białoszewski, photo by Irena Jarosińska