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 ?

 

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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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