Arnošt Lustig, one of the Czech Republic’s literary greats, has been giving salespeople a helping hand this week. Although still weak from an ongoing battle with cancer, Mr. Lustig put a smile on his face and spent a week behind the sales desk at the Franz Kafka book shop in Prague, attracting crowds of people who came to buy an autographed book and wish him well.
It is not often that a prominent, internationally-recognized writer is willing to give book sellers a helping hand. So when Arnošt Lustig offered his services to the Franz Kafka Bookstore, the management couldn’t believe its luck. The news spread and the bookstore turned into a non-stop literary party, with people pouring in to buy a book, shake his hand and chat. Mr. Lustig had a smile for everyone:
“You know, we like this book store, me and several of my writer friends. And now that there is a crisis we thought about how we could help it sell more books. And we came up with the idea of authors themselves taking turns behind the counter. And as you can see people are pouring in. I sign about two hundred books a day. I sell authors like Bohumil Hrabal, Karel Poláček, Franz Kafka, Egon Hostovský. And, my own books of course.”
Arnošt Lustig has 53 books to his name, among them famous novels such as Dita Saxova, A Prayer for Katherine Horowitz and Lovely Green Eyes. Having himself been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, it is not surprising that the vast majority of Arnošt Lustig’s books are powerful testimonies of the Holocaust. His latest novel The Story of Marie Navarová has a fresh slant, reflecting on the paradoxes of the war. It tells the story of a nurse who happened to be at the site of the Heydrich assassination and who rushed to give the fatally injured Nazi governor first aid. She was first applauded and later sent to prison for the deed by the Nazis because she was unable to describe the assassins. Later the communists sent her to jail once again for having helped an enemy. Arnošt Lustig says writing it was a challenge.
“Being a writer, the ability to write well means that you have a talent for story-telling, an ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes. My years as a radio journalist helped me enormously in this. I spoke to people from different walks of life and I was able to get a deep understanding of what made them tick. In my last novel I did exactly the same thing as in Dita Saxova. I recounted the fate of a woman. I don’t write about the Holocaust. I write about people. How they act under extreme pressure, when all conventions are stripped away and a person’s soul is laid bare. I find that endlessly fascinating.”
Next in line to sell books at the Franz Kafka bookstore are poetess Viola Fischerová, writer Jan Novák and the head of the Czech PEN club Jiří Dědeček.