The latest issue of Words Without Borders is out and is devoted to Contemporary Czech prose. Edited and with an introductory essay by translator Alex Zucker, the issue includes writers who are likely little to totally unknown even to readers keeping up with contemporary European fiction.
In his essay Zucker pushes at the political straitjacket that Czech writing has been placed in by Western critical pigeonholing and has aimed to bring a new (not entirely young), less exclusively male, but very much different group of writers than the famous names that people who know Czech fiction are familiar with.
Personally, I don’t agree with any of the reasons he presents for why people should read Czech writing – to get an idea of how Czech people, live, feel and think (I live in the Czech Republic and have less and less an idea how Czech people live, feel and think. I don’t even know how I live, feel and think); to “make us more empathetic” (I read a lot and am not empathetic) and that it “can teach us about foreign cultures” (a night in a Czech bar can probably teach you far more than a Czech novel).
Ultimately, I think the reason to read these writers is the same reason you should read anything. We have a limited amount of time in life and have to search out the best books and short stories to read because we simply can’t read everything. Having such a varied and vivid selection of prose such as is offerred here, and having the benefit of having it so well translated into English, is something to be grateful for.
Once you read the works presented here you can go on and read the books by these writers that have already been translated into English, some of their contemporaries that Zucker mentions in his introduction and then look forward to some of their work that will be forthcoming in English in the near future.
The issue contains work by Magdaléna Platzová, who will be appearing at the New Literature from Europe festival in New York City from Nov 14-16 and who I will be interviewing, Jiří Kratochvil, Petra Soukupová, Petra Hůlová, Marek Šindelka, Jan Balabán, Radka Denemarková, Jakuba Katalpa, Tomáš Zmeškal and Martin Ryšavý.
Photo – by Petra Herotová, from the series “Something Is Not Working Here”/Words Without Borders