In the last edition of Czech Books we featured an interview with Zuzana Justman, who with her older brother and mother survived the wartime Terezín ghetto. Her brother Jiří Robert Pick later wrote a remarkable novel set in the ghetto, under the title “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”. The book draws richly from his own memories; with an unexpected lightness and humour it tells the story of a teenage boy and the people around him – his friends and the older men sharing a ward with him in the ghetto infirmary. Thanks to Zuzana Justman
“Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” is a remarkable book by many standards. It is a comic novel set in the wartime Jewish ghetto in Terezín, written by the Czech satirist Jiří Robert Pick some twenty years after he survived the ghetto. The book is a classic, sparkling with life and humour, in defiance of the dehumanizing environment in which it was written. Thanks to J. R. Pick’s sister, the award-winning documentary film-maker Zuzana Justman, the book has just been published in English translation. In a two-part special, Zuzana talks
Ever since her award-winning debut novel All This Belongs to Me came out in 2002, Petra Hůlová has been a major voice in Czech fiction. The book went on to be translated into many languages, including English, and became a huge success for the then twenty-three-year-old writer. Now, thanks to translator Alex Zucker and Jantar Publishing, English readers can enjoy another of Petra’s novels. Three Plastic Rooms is written as the monologue of a prostitute as she approaches middle age. It is totally absorbing – acrobatic in its language and humorous
Heda Margolius Kovály was a well-known writer and translator who survived the Auschwitz extermination camp and whose first husband, Rudolf Margolius, a deputy minister of foreign trade, was found guilty in the notorious Slánský show trials in what is one of the darkest chapters of in modern Czechoslovak history. In the 1970s, Heda published a memoir which has been in print ever since, but now, a new publication called “Hitler, Stalin and I”, based on four days of interviews with documentary filmmaker Helena Treštíková in 2000 and made into a film
We have featured plenty of contemporary Czech novelists in this programme over the last decade, but we should spare a thought for their translators, patiently working at home alone, struggling at a craft every bit as challenging as alchemy. In Czech Books this week, David Vaughan talks to a translator who has done more than any other to bring the middle and younger generation of Czech novelists to English-speaking readers.
In 1952, when Ivan Margolius was five years old, his father Rudolf, a former deputy minister of foreign trade, was found guilty in the notorious Slansky show trials, surely one of the darkest chapters of the Communist era. Rudolf Margolius, who like Ivan's mother Heda had survived the Nazi death camps, was executed. Ivan Margolius left Czechoslovakia in 1966 and is now a successful architect in the UK. When I spoke to him recently, he recalled growing up in the shadow of his father's death.