one of my favorite things to do when in another country is to voraciously read the best literature of that place. it really puts you better in touch with not only the culture and history, but you can bet every czech has also read those books so it gives you something to talk about. here are some of my favorite czech reads over the last year…
hrabal is a super eccentric and beloved twentieth century author who often writes about life in prague during the communist era. published in 1976 but not officially until 1989 due to censorship, we learn about the story of an old drunk working as a paper-crusher in a prague factory.
his writing is so lyrical and poetic that it’s hard not to love, even though he seems to not believe in paragraph breaks and the sentences can run on for days, which can be hard to get accustomed to initially. this particular book was tough initially to break into, as it was my first hrabal experience, but it was worth the time i put in. perhaps many readers looking for a lighter and funnier experience might enjoy i served the king of england more, but this story is quite rewarding for those who stick with it.
this book is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in czech culture or central european history. written somewhat biographically by jaroslav hašek and published posthumously in 1923, we learn all about the forest gump of soldiers, dull-witted švejk has he navigates all kinds of situations as a soldier serving in the 91st regiment of the austro-hungarian army in the great war.
the dark humor isn’t lost with the translation to english, and it’s been called one of the greatest anti-war novels of all time. (joseph heller has been quoted as saying he never would’ve written catch 22 if it wasn’t for švejk!) švejk is quite the national hero in the czech republic: you can see magnets, mugs, and restaurants all over the country bearing his stout image! my favorite part is that the character at one point in the book is stationed at the marianske barracks (now an office building) in ceske budejovice, a two minute walk from my house.
i’m sure you’ve heard of this book, as it’s absolutely world famous, and for a good reason: it’s a masterpiece. bet you didn’t know the author was czech though, did ya? written by milan kundera and published in 1984, it’s a love story set in prague during the 1968 prague spring era. the prose is beautiful, it’s probably the best thing i’ve ever read. although the first two authors i mentioned seem more celebrated by czechs, kundera is brilliant and everything he writes is unmissable.
hope these spark some reading inspirado for you while i’m on holiday! cheers.