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November 2014

Contemporary Czech Prose

Image: Petra Herotová, From the series "Something Is Not Working Here." Ink on Paper, 30 x 42 cm, 2012

This month we’re presenting Czech writing. Czech literature is underrepresented in translation, and its profile in English has been mainly political and largely male. The ten writers showcased here—men and women, ranging in age from thirty to seventy-four—demonstrate the richness and diversity of contemporary Czech writing. Magdaléna Platzová tells of love (and life) lost. Jan Balabán’s startled academic discovers a sister. Radka Denemarková depicts a young man with a unique obsession. In stories of families, Marek Šindelka shows a sporting outing turned deadly, and Tomáš Zmeškal tracks his estranged father in Congo; Petra Soukupová sees a family rocked by a devastating injury, and Petra Hůlová‘s Czech girl finds a “model” Communist town is anything but. Jiří Kratochvil shows a chess-playing boy realizing he’s a pawn in a terrorist cell; Jakuba Katalpa sends a German teacher to police a Czech town. And Martin Ryšavý transcribes the monologue of a theater director turned street-sweeper. We thank our guest editor, Alex Zucker, who provides an illuminating introduction as well as several translations.

  Elsewhere, we celebrate the launch of our new education site, WWB Campus, with three essays on the discovery of literature. Mexico’s Valeria Luiselli recalls learning to read in an alienating Seoul, China’s Can Xue juggles fairy tales and Marxism, and Abdel-Moneim Ramadan reflects on a poetic education.

Not Necessarily About Politics: Contemporary Czech Prose

Authors writing in Czech have always had plenty to say.

This Time Last Year

The older you are, the less exposure you can tolerate.


from “Down, Beast!”

I even had erotic dreams in which the chess pieces lusted after each other.

from “Disappear”

The leg I don’t have is what hurts.

from “Guardians of the Public Good”

Krakow in my childhood didn’t belong to anyone.

Bow and Arrow

We should’ve sorted it out when he was nine, when he hung the neighbor’s cat.


The Cherry Tree

Of course I was named after Leonid Brezhnev!


from “Kobold”

He tries to cram St. John of Nepomuk into a shaggy fur coat.

from “Germans”

They were different from the Germans she knew in the Reich.

The Prodigal Father

Myths always lie a little, to make them more impressive.

from “Talespinner”

Bgashev’s been dead a few years now and he’s been coming to see me all this time.


Book Reviews

Otfried Preussler’s “Krabat and the Sorcerer’s Mill”

Reviewed by Emma Garman

Preussler’s storytelling mastery and gift for atmosphere render this Bildungsroman-meets-Gothic horror both timeless and splendidly, creepily original.

Joseph Roth’s “The Hundred Days”

Reviewed by Abby Margulies

An achingly beautiful fictional account of the rise and fall of the Emperor Napoleon

Sérgio Rodrigues’s “Elza: The Girl” and Paulo Scott’s “Nowhere People”

Reviewed by Anderson Tepper

Where are all the young Brazilian writers?

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