Before I enumerate some books set in the Czech Republic, let me share with you a great site, Czech Stories. It’s a wonderful site to know more about tourist destinations in the Czech Republic. The photos are amazing too. My favorite was “So close to the stars“.
Let’s get to know more about the country now, shall we?
- Just a few phrases and words we ought to know: Těší mě (Nice to meet you), Děkuji (Thank you), Dobrou chut’! (Enjoy your meal!) And for those who enjoy shopping: Kolik to stojí? (How much is it?) [Source]
- A popular Czech desserts is palačinka. These are thin pancakes similar to French crêpe and is served with different types of fillings such as fruits and jams. I should also mention Ovocne knedliky, which are fruit dumplings usually filled with apricots or plums. Yum!
- The most popular and national drink in the Czech Republic, besides Becherovka, is beer. Becherovka is said to have some medicinal properties. Wikipedia describes it as “cinnamon flavored kerosene, only worse“. I think I’ll pass.
- The Prague astronomical clock is the oldest working astronomical medieval clock. It was installed in Prague in 1410. It looks amazing!
- Some famous personalities from the Czech Republic are: Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova, both professional tennis players and champions. Franz Kafka, regarded by critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century and whose works include The Metamorphosis and The Trial was also born in the Czech Republic. Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1929. Jan Saudek is a world-famous photographer. You can learn a little more about him by visiting this site.
Now… On with the books (all links will bring you to the book’s Goodreads page):
The Three Golden Keys by Peter Sís (Author and Illustrator) – In this allegorical tale, a man in a hot-air ballon is thrown off course in a violent storm, landing him in the city of his youth. He finds the way to his old home, but the house is dark, with three rusty padlocks on the door. A black cat with eyes of fire appears and leads him through Prague’s silent streets and monuments in seach of the three golden keys that will open the door of his boyhood home and restore the city to life. In this reissue of one of his most personal works, Peter Sís recaptures the wonder of his own lost childhood in Prague and celebrates the city’s wonderful cultural heritage, reborn after forty-five years of Communist rule. He wrote it for his young daughter, Madeleine, who is growing up in the New World, so that when she is old enough to understand it she will have a record of the strange and wonderful heritage that is her birthright. An utterly magical book on every level. (Goodreads)
The Questionnaire, Or, Prayer For A Town & A Friend by Jiří Gruša -Originally circulated in Czechoslovakia in an underground edition of nineteen typewritten copies (which landed the author in jail for “initiating disorder”), The Questionnaire is Jiri Grusa’s internationally acclaimed masterpiece. In completing a standard employment questionnaire, narrator Jan Kepka manages to write a beautifully impressionistic history of his life, his family, and his hometown as he obeys – with mock solemnity – the handwritten command on top of the form: “DO NOT CROSS OUT.” (Goodreads)
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal – Too Loud a Solitude is a tender and funny story of Hant’a – a man who has lived in a Czech police state – for 35 years, working as compactor of wastepaper and books. In the process of compacting, he has acquired an education so unwitting he can’t quite tell which of his thoughts are his own and which come from his books. He has rescued many from jaws of hydraulic press and now his house is filled to the rooftops. Destroyer of the written word, he is also its perpetuator.But when a new automatic press makes his job redundant there’s only one thing he can do – go down with his ship.This is an eccentric romp celebrating the indestructability- against censorship, political opression etc – of the written word. (Goodreads)
Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal – Hrabal’s postwar classic about a young man’s coming of age in German-occupied Czechoslovakia is among his most beloved and accessible works. Closely Watched Trains is the subtle and poetic portrait of Milos Hrma, a timid young railroad apprentice who insulates himself with fantasy against a reality filled with cruelty and grief. Day after day as he watches trains fly by, he torments himself with the suspicion that he himself is being watched and with fears of impotency. Hrma finally affirms his manhood and, with a sense of peace and purpose he has never known before, heroically confronts a trainload of Nazis. (Goodreads)
Ignorance by Milan Kundera, Linda Asher (Translator) – Ignorance…is a compact exploration of variations on a theme: that of “home”, nostalgia for homeland, and the irony of the Odyssean homecoming. Yet like much of Kundera’s fiction, its deeper concern is with memory and forgetting. Challenging the “moral hierarchy of emotions” laid down when Homer “glorified nostalgia with a laurel wreath,” Ignorance tilts at the romantic assumption that separation from the land of one’s birth must be a kind of death – just as, for the artist, it is casually and erroneously assumed to be the death of creativity. (Maya Jaggi, The Guardian, Nov. 16, 2002)