The Attempt by Magdaléna Platzová

 

Image of Magdaléna Platzová’s “The Attempt”

The Attempt by magdalena Platzova

Czech Fiction

original title – Anarchista

translator – Alex Zucker

Source – personnel copy

the end of last year I was reading through the world literature todays best translations of 2016 and decide to order a couple that caught my eye and this by the Czech writer Magdalena Platzova caught my eye. She Studied philosophy in the Us and UK after this she became firstly a journalist then she became an editor and  also writes a weekly column. She has published a number of novels this is her second book to be translated to english and is based partly on the true story of Alexander Berkman and his life long partner Emma goldman and the attempt to kill the industrialist Henry Frick in 1892 .

One of the books, published by a small university press in the United States, was an anthology of biographies of the most important anarchists.Andreis B wasn’t one of them, but he did play a supporting role in the story of Louise G .. an anarchist of Russian origin

There were two photos of him. A portrait from 1892 , when he attempted to assassinate Kolman and a snapshot from the mid-thirties: Andrei on the promenade in Nice, wearing a light suit, cane and straw hat in hand , running to catch up with a group of friends, dominated by the short, broad frame of Louise G

The book about the two that Josef has leads to a theory Jan maybe her great granddaughter .

 

The book set in the present day as we follow a Czech historian Jan as she is trying to find out more avout Andrei B he is a fictional version Of Alexander Berkman , and his affair and life with Louise G a fictional version Emma Goldman , One of jan’s friend a fellow historian has a theory that Jan’s on family line comes from the child of these two. So Jan has become entranced with these two and like them decides to cross the ocean to America. This is just at the time that anarchist’s are in the forefront of the news with the occupy wall street movement is in full turn. Jan is here to study the Kolmans files about the time the Kolmans is a stand in for the Henry Frick who was the real target in the real life events of the attempt on his life.

I hit on the plan of how to get to Kolman’s daughter while I was in the reading room of the New York Public Library, looking through a book about Kolman house that Eleanor herself put together thirty years ago.

I was amazed at how much kolman’s taste changed in the space of a few years , how perfect the New York collection seemed in comparison with what was on display in the rooms of the first family residence. It encapsulated the difference between a metropolis and provincial city , between the mentality of cultured art dealers like Duveen brothers and the outlook of an unsophisticated businessman, who accumulated works of art solely for his own pleasure .

Jan finds a way to get to the Kolman home to find out about them

This is a clever look at the past that serves at a look at the present. A clever use of  letters notebooks build the picture of the past whilst in the background we see what drives Jan to find out about the characters driven by Josef theory . This is a clash of Ideas Europe against american the growth of wealth that has been the driving force behind the american way of life those collections Kolmann like the real life Frick had seem so opposite to what Jan knows from his european ideas then there is what drives us is money freedom well,no from what we discover about the family but also on the other end of the scale can Anachists  ever be the answer ? well no because some of us need guidance. This is modern and past america viewed through Czech eyes we get the madness of it all like we do in the works of Kafka or more so Skvorecky like Magadlena spent time in North America in his great book The engineers of human souls . that also followed a czech across the atlantic but also looking to europe as in his case he tried to escape his past her we try to discover the past to get the present and as that book title came from Stalin saying of writers being the engineers of human souls this is a book about searching our souls .

Innocence or murder on steep street by Heda Margolius Kovály

Innocence or murder on steep street by HedaMargolius  Kovály

Czech fiction

Original title –Nevina

Translator – Alex Zucker

Source – review copy

Tonight, tonight, I say goodbye
To everyone who loves me
Stick it to my enemies tonight
Then I disappear

Bathe my path in shining light
Set the dials to thrill me
Every secret has its price
This one’s set to kill

Too loose, too tight
Too dark, too bright
A lie, the truth
Which one should I use?
If the lie succeeds
Then you’ll know what I mean
When I tell you I have secrets to attend

Crime scene no1 by the afghan whigs is perfect match dark and brooding music like this book

 

Well today sees me in Eastern europe for Woman in translation month and a writer best known for her Memoir under a cruel star a memoir of her time in Auschwitz during the war . Well she wrote this novel in the years after the war when The Czech republic fell under soviet control , at the time she wrote the book it wasn’t allowed to be published and luckily a copy of the book managed to be saved to finally see the light of day in the 1980’s in Germany .Heda worked for many years translating book from English into Czech on of the writers she translated a lot of was the crime writer Raymond Chandler which is a obvious influence on this book .

“Believe me , I know .You can’t keep a secret at the Horizon .Anyway , if she did find somebody new  everyone’d badmouth her for runnin’ around on her man in the clink ,Meanwhile if the shoe was on the other foot and she was the one locked up her husband would find another girl in a week and people’d say

Helena and Karel he worked for the government and she had a better job before she went to the Horizon cinema .

The book revolves around a murder a young boy is found dead in a cinema and the staff of this cinema the Horizon  , the first section of the book is told from the perspective of on of the usherettes Helena .this first section tells what happened and then see some of the characters that crop up in the book like  people working in the cinema , the husband of Helena , Karel whom is in trouble with the authorities . the last two-thirds of the book are told by a nameless observer that watches why the boy was killed , who works for the government in the cinema , what really is happening ? which usher did it or was it them ? As we see the inspector trying to get to the bottom of it all .

The fat man hunched over in his chair and thought a moment

“Steep street is practically made for a knife ” he said .His voice was slow with sleepiness and husky , perhaps with the memory of the darkness on steep street .He laid a palm on his eyes and rubbed them as if trying to erase the sight from his mind .

I loved piece like this as they could have jumped of a hard-boiled american novel ,she caught that style of writing so well and Alex Zucker has retained in his translation .

 

This is an homage to two things firstly to Czech lit there is tones of Kafka here it is hard to avoid the feeling of Helena falling into one of those  Kafka like rabbit holes here as things started to fall into place.As every one isn’t what they first seems  and it is very easy to get caught up in the government web that is being woven  . The other is homage to Chandler and that style of crime novel , lots nods to american crime novels .The female character are like Chandlers but to me are maybe more rounded in the writing . There is feeling red herring and such here . The ushers whom fall suspect of the death of the young boy each have a connection and could be the killer . This is a book for lovers of both hard-boiled crime or Kafkaesque fiction . We are lucky it managed to avoid being destroyed by the censors .

Have you a favourite book in translation influenced by american fiction , but still keeping it identity ?

 

A gothic soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic

 

 

 

A gothic soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic

Czech fiction

Original title – Gotická duše

Translator – Kristen Lodge

Source – review copy

 

I’m your only friend I’m not your only friend But I’m a little glowing friend But really I’m not actually your friend But I am

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch Who watches over you Make a little birdhouse in your soul Not to put too fine a point on it: Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I have a secret to tell From my electrical well It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells So the room must listen to me Filibuster vigilantly My name is blue canary One note, spelled L-I-T-E My story’s infinite Like the Longines Symphonette It doesn’t rest

I choose birdhouses in your soul as I used a lightbulb in my review as a metaphor for the narrator .source 

I love it when Twisted spoon bring a new book out as they seem to choose books that firstly would never see light of day in the uk , secondly are important in the context of where they are from . Here again they have published a book from the Czech decadence movement .A counterpart of the French books at the time this book has a much darker feel than the French decandence movement books I have read .Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic was a novelist and critic .He found the modern review a well-known magazine of the time that published the best French and Czech decadent movement writers  .

But he didn’t die

He arose from bed even paler than before . The sound of his voice was more somber . He looked even more terrifying . His eyes now disturbed anyone who looked into them .They lacked luster .They harboured a secret that seemed accusatory , though it could never be expressed in words .

His struggle is beyond words in the world around him .

The book is the story of a nameless narrator and his struggle in the world he is living a world that is caught under an empire that has changed from the world he knew. He wanders the town seeing these changes around him  .As much as it is his story it is also the story of the city he lives in which is Prague the city at night jumps of the pages .He seems to be struggling with life and death as the book goes on the world around him seems to dissolve to the struggle with in him .He is the last of his line losing faith in the world around him .He even goes to churches to try to find solace but struggles too .

He left the church .

Where he wandered after that , he could no longer remember .

Today everything that had occupied his soul back then was revived .He knew he would not be able to escape the dank tomb of the past into which he had descended , to free himself from the enchanted circle of overwrought blood and nerves in which he had unexpectedly become entrapped from this atmosphere could not be approached without incurring punishment .

A torture soul which even the church can’t save .

This is one dark book a man’s soul is on the line and we see how he struggles with it .A way to look at the book is the context of when it was written in 1905 the world has just entered a new century . The Habsburg empire is harked back to a lot the book  this of course in hindsight is showing the first ripples of the start of world war one . The narrators worry about his own world and the city of Prague maybe show the greater picture a world that has grown a modern age the is fast approaching them . This shows how one man gets caught in the world in flux  and like those early lightbulb he is trying to light his night , his dark places  but maybe is about to burn out! .

Have you a favourite book from the decadent movement  ?

 

 

Closely Observed trains by Bohumil Hrabal

 

 

Closely Observed trains by Bohumil Hrabil

Czech fiction

Original title –  Ostře sledované vlaky

Translator – Edith Pargeter

Source personnel copy

Upon the sand, upon the bay
“There is a quick and easy way” you say
Before you illustrate
I’d rather state:
“I’m not the man you think I am
I’m not the man you think I am”

And Sorrow’s native son
He will not smile for anyone

And Pretty Girls Make Graves
Oh…

It had to be the Smiths , Milos could have maybe been the first smiths fan if he wanted ! source 

Well I read this years ago , then a few years later thanks to Guardian managed to get hold of the dvd of the film .This slim novella is a classic of Czech fiction .Bohumil Hrabal at the time he was writing was maybe along side writer like Harval , Skvorecky and a few others made Czech lit the lit to read in the cold war . Hrabal himself  studied law postman , clerk and bailer of wastepaper . Before he finally became a writer and spent most of his writing life in Prague . He has a number of his books translated into English .

Dispatcher Hubicka welcomed me back , and told me at once that we were to be on duty together , for after three months of sick I should have to start learning all over again . And then he asked me what the time was , and pulled up my sleeve from my wrist , but instead of looking at my watch he was staring straight t the scar over my healed wound .

Milos is given help but maybe not the best he will learn .

The setting for the book is 1945 , at a small station , but important hub for germans we meet Milos . He Milos is the main character of the book this young man . He  has a girlfriend , whom he is having trouble getting really close to . At work there is the boss a dispatcher called Hubicka . His problem he is more taken with the telegraphist at the station and trying to stamp her on the behind with , than his job . The job is as the title says closely observing trains , thus making sure the trains full of German solders and arms don’t have any hold ups .Milos is stressed doing this letting down his girlfriend and then because of that tries to take his life this is where were we first meet him  . Only to return and get caught in the same cycle again .

But dispatcher Hubicka was gazing unto the blue sky , and now as I followed his gaze , I , too , could see what he was seeing there : our telegraphist Virginia  stretched out across the entire heaven , and my Hubicka gently turning up her skirt , and then taking one stamp after another and with along movements printing those stamps on our telegraphist;s behind ..

this is why he ends up hubicka has his eyes elsewhere .

Now how do you cover this one . It’s hard it is only 90 pages long .But in some ways it covers . Much more than you feel can be covered in 90 pages .Love ,sex and romance through Milos and his boss we see the good and the bad and failure and success in a way . The war this is 1945 and there is an undercurrent of why the German needs this to be so smooth and that is the war is being lost . Satire there is part of this reminds me of Catch 22 at times Milos has similar problems as Yossarian . They are both caught up in a mad world seeing the madness but not able to escape it  .Yossarian being the piloting of the plane . Milos is the inability to perform with his girlfriend . I think the is a real beauty is the way Hrabal evokes this world of a small  bohemian station , subtle details like the trains coming and going remind of us where we are but also add as a commentary on maybe what was happening at the time ,maybe also the Germans could be changed for the Soviets ?  Hrabal wrote the book  in 1965 .I must watch the film again which in its own way brought the dimension of the Prague spring to screen more in a way .

Have you read this book or any by him ?

The devil’s workshop by Jáchym Topol

Devils Workshop

The devil’s workshop by Jáchym Topol

Czech Literature

Translator Alex Zucker

Original title  Chladnou zemí

Source Revew copy

Jáchym Topol is Czech writer his father was a playwright and dissident .This meant  Jáchym Topol wasn’t allowed to go to university ,so he wrote lyrics for his rock band during the 70’s and 80’s .He also spent time in prison due to some of his writings before the communist system fell in Czech  .When the 1989 revolution happened ,he wrote the newsletter for the movement that went on to become a well-known magazine in  Czech republic .He still lives in Prague he has written a number of novels and pieces of non-fiction .

Visit the Devil’s workshop the European monument to genocide ! Arthur declared in a booming voice ,pouring everyone another round of Vodka .

How the book got its title .

So the Devil workshop follows an unnamed narrator that grew up in the town of Terezin ,this brutal imposing town was a Nazi prison during the second world war .He had left ,but is drawn back by an Uncle Lebo  and a bizarre plan to turn this town into a sort of Disneyland of the holocaust as his uncle has seen what has happen to other historic sites like this and the money that has been drawn in  .There are plans to drastically change the town and to remove the buildings from the Nazi era  and the narrators uncle feels the town should be kept and the history built on and is a way of drawing money back to the town  . Now the plans to open an attraction happens and they open some sort of tourist attraction to the towns past ,this leads the  narrator  to flee he decides and  arrives in Belarus and then he finds out they want him to do the same as he did in Terezin to a place the call the Devils workshop .A case of history repeating and him feeling it all beginning again .

And food .She copied the idea from the Krakow Ghetto ,so tasty crunchy pizza that Lea and the aunts began to bake in our kitchen became known as Ghetto pizza .The secret ingredient was a light dusting of terezin grass ,a season that didn’t exist anywhere else .

A quite horrific idea really I read this and did worry what the secret ingredient would be

Now this book took  Jáchym Topol over twenty year to work on and finally get right .I can see why it took so long it is like trying to balance something on the point of the needle and get the different parts in balance ,the past not just the Nazi past but also the communist past .The value of history is a place of blood and brutality right to make money from ? The need to remember what happened as well .Also the feeling that maybe us in the west have some how forgotten what happen in places like Czech and Belarus during the wart and also after the war .Oh damm I making this sound bleak it is but also there is large chunks of humour in it that bleak gallows humour that situations like this sometimes need ! I was drawn into this world of trying to forge a future and not forgetting the past of ghost and the present it is one hell of a book .I felt  Jáchym Topol had handle it all so well it was easy to make this book into something unsuitable about the subjects it covers but no  Jáchym Topol had got the tone just right and Alex zucker has done a subtle translation on this book .

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