Can something that exists merely as a literary text, say a story, come about in real life? Can reality, to put it another way, steal something from literature, the same way literature steals from reality? Such is the question that Libor Hrach, the author of The Adventures of the Wise Badger, fields one evening over a hedonistic supper in a tony Brno restaurant from Kamil Modráček, himself a burrowing animal of sorts, in Jiří Kratochvil’s novel The Vow.
“Quite simply, I said, everything that has been written either has already happened, or is about to. You write a story, and you can never be sure if what you’re writing isn’t actually taking place two streets away from where you sit…” If this does not send chills down the spine of the reader of The Vow, they have got a high tolerance for the creepy.
Set in 1950s Brno, at the height of Gottwald’s Stalinist reshaping of Czechoslovakia into a Communist prison, and partially in today’s independent Czech Republic, Kratochvil, alternating between the dry Czech humour of Jaroslav Hašek and the uncanny, chilling otherworldliness of Edgar Allan Poe, takes the reader on a journey such as they have never been on before: to geographic areas in the beautiful Moravian city where no foot has set since the Middle Ages, and… places deep inside all of us, where most of us would rather never venture…
Translation of this book was supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
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Charles S. Kraszewski (b. 1962) is a poet and translator, creative in both English and Polish. He is the author of three volumes of original verse in English (Diet of Nails; Beast; Chanameed), and one in Polish (Hallo, Sztokholm). He also authored a satirical novel Accomplices, You Ask? (San Francisco: Montag, 2021). He translates from Polish, Czech and Slovak into English, and from English and Spanish into Polish. He is a member of the Union of Polish Writers Abroad (London) and of the Association of Polish Writers (SPP, Kraków).
Endorsements and Review Quotes
“It was therefore a delight to see the publication last year of a complete English translation of the 2009 novel under review, originally Slib: Rekviem na padesátá léta, which is one of Kratochvil’s most ambitious and entertaining works of the past two decades.” Christopher W. Harwood, Slavic Review
“Set in Brno under the Soviets, it uses postmodern techniques to excoriate the culture of surveillance and to show how everyone was a perpetrator, everyone was to blame, and everyone answers to someone in power, though that of course was mostly the state.” Lisa Hill, ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
“This is a challenging and thought-provoking book, which requires careful reading. The introduction from the translator Charles S. Kraszewski is invaluable in identifying the themes and issues explored. Modráček himself is an equally complex and challenging personality, especially in the way he takes his revenge, and is an object lesson in how easily the oppressed can turn into the oppressor.” Mandy Jenkinson, Historical Novel Society