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Six Great Czech Authors (Who Aren't Kafka or Kundera)

Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera are arguably the best-known Czech authors, certainly outside of their native country. So prominent is Kafka that his name has become a ubiquitous term—‘Kafkaesque’—alluding to anything that resembles his brand of nightmarish, logic-defying, otherworldly prose. In the 1980s, Kundera rose to worldwide fame with the English translations of his novels The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and then The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the film adaptation of which won a BAFTA and two Oscar nominations.

There are so many other interesting Czech writers beyond these two, many of whom were heavily influenced by the complicated modern history of their country, producing some really incredible works that range from comedic wartime misadventures, to semi-autobiographical stream-of-consciousness, to the futuristic works of a writer who invented the word ‘robot.’

Love And Garbage

Abandoning his love of writing for a job as a road sweeper, Klíma’s protagonist wanders the city while we wander inside his head amidst strained musings on his love affair and his life. Love and Garbage is not just about how Communism crushed the free and expressive artistic spirit, it’s about how people had to hide their true nature, their jobs, routines, hobbies, everything that defined them. It is also a passionate novel about the unity and hope the individual can find all around him. This is Klíma’s most popular novel, written in 1986 but only published three years later as the Communist state collapsed.

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The Good Soldier Svejk

This is the most translated Czech novel of all time. Blackly satirical and similar in tone to Catch-22 (though published 30 years before it), Hašek’s novel follows the bumbling exploits of our hero Švejk as he gleefully serves the Austro-Hungarian army, being bounced back and forth across Europe. He’s posted as far afield as Galicia one minute, then on the Eastern Front the next. Loosely based on some of Hašek’s own wartime escapades, this unfinished novel is much beloved for its incompetent but likeable journeyman protagonist and its tongue-in-cheek musings on the absurdity of war. 

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RUR & War with the Newts

You’ve been waiting for it since I first mentioned it so here you are; the man who invented the word ‘robot’ (he shared this prestigious honour with his brother Josef). A Czech writer from the early 20th century, Čapek catapulted himself light years ahead of his contemporaries with a number of fascinating and incredibly imaginative works. RUR & War with the Newts combines his two most popular and important works, written in 1921 and 1936 respectively. The play RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, is the original precursor to The Terminator, The Matrix, Ex-Machina, Westworld and any other machines-vs.-man storyline you can think of. Similar in structure—enslavement, revolt—is his slightly less influential, but nonetheless extremely entertaining, sci-fi satire War with the Newts about the struggles between the human race and a sea dwelling alien race.

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The Cowards

Despite the war, despite the hardships and the daily strife, Danny only cares about one thing: his jazz band. War is getting in the way of lucrative local gigs. Set in 1945 just before the wave of Communism engulfed his country, Skvorecky wrote the novel in the late 40s. His outspoken democratic views and style of writing saw The Cowards banned until 1958; a decade later he fled to Canada. The central character, Danny Smiřický, a precocious and selfish teen, is based on the author himself. Using a first-person narrative structure, Skvorecky was able to channel a lot of his personal views and grievances through the teen. Both author and character are very much middle- or working-class men, trying to carry on with as normal an existence as possible. But for Danny, the war is eventually too much to simply ignore and wish away. Reluctantly he is drawn into the conflict with devastating consequences. A hugely rewarding read.

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The Guinea Pigs

A writer and journalist, Vaculík was perhaps best known for his 1968 manifesto The Two Thousand Words, written in the midst of the Prague Spring, a period of attempted liberalisation. The Two Thousand Word pushed for various reforms and the accountability of the government; it led to the banning of his books. The Guinea Pigs revolves around a simple bank clerk who witnesses money being syphoned out of the bank in the pockets of the employees. The money is then confiscated by the bank security who return only a portion of it. Full of allegory and metaphor, it is a very small book that questions the mindset of the individual and the role one plays as part of the state system. The Guinea Pigs challenges the individual to ask questions of him or herself; What is your place? Where is your free will? And in typical Czech manner, Vaculík, much like Hašek and Kafka before him, openly questions the absurdity of war and the politics that smother the individual.

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City Sister Silver

Born eight years before the Prague Spring, Topol is a very modern Czech writer with a number of quirky, historically referential novels under his belt. His first novel, Sestra, was published one year after the 1993 dissolution of Czechoslovakia. By 2000, Sestra was published in English as City Sister Silver. It is a semi-autobiographical novel with Topol casting himself as the confused Potok, who is trying to make sense of the past—in this way, Potok becomes emblematic of an entire generation who weren’t around when the Soviets swept in and when Communism held the country in an iron grip. City Sister Silver is dark, complicated and always searching. Topol makes room for romance, nightmarish visions and meandering adventures, all written with poetic flourish. It is an epic novel, and getting through it all is an undertaking, but it is a rare thing; so strangely compelling and starkly unique.

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Shane O’Reilly has lived in Dublin all his life; that’s 34 years of memories and adventures around the city centre. While he watched as his friends emigrated during the recession, he started ... Show More