Thursday, September 14, 2006


At the beginning of the year I did what I usually do at that time: I reread some of the books that deserve to be read more than once. This seems to be the best way to start a new reading season: I am certain I won't be disappointed.

I spent the first two and a half months of the year rereading, for the sixth time in a quarter of a century, if I recall correctly, Milan Kundera's novels and story collections. Time and again, it was a very instructive reading for a fellow writer. The more often I am in the literary company of Kundera, the more I admire his unique prose talent, his colossal erudition, particularly when it comes to music, and his truly deep insights into various aspects of ambiguous human nature. An attentive author can always learn a great deal from this master.

(Another favorite of mine among Czech writers is, of course, the great classic—Jaroslav Hasek. His masterpiece The Good Soldier Svejk: And His Fortunes in the World War is my regular annual read. Kundera's books are full of referential links to Svejk, particularly his—in my humble opinion—best work, The Farewell Waltz.)

Next came another reread. I was privileged enough to read Tamar Yellin's brilliant collection Kafka in Brontëland and other stories in the manuscript form. Now that the book is finally out I greatly enjoyed once again Tamar's subtle, profound, melancholy storytelling. I am sure it will soon get the recognition it greatly deserves in the highest literary circles.

Prior to this year I had the chance to read only one of Orhan Pamuk's books: The White Castle. Two other novels by Pamuk appeared recently, almost simultaneously, in the Serbian translation: My Name is Red and The New Life. The White Castle made it quite clear to me why Pamuk is considered the greatest Turkish contemporary writer. Now, after having read these two other books, I have no doubt whatsoever: he is one of the most prominent world authors of our times. It is not by chance that he won numerous Turkish and international literary awards, the "International IMPAC Literary Award" being maybe the most important among them.

Whoever suffers the illusion that there is nothing beyond the Western world and its values should read Pamuk's masterpiece My Name is Red in order to get powerfully disillusioned. This superb novel about how the Renaissance almost took root in Ottoman Turkey is a richly woven tapestry, a luxurious fresco of a world and time many of us are totally and arrogantly ignorant about. And yet precisely that world and that period happen to be fertile ground for creating great literature.

The same compliments can be given to Haruki Murakami's book South of the Border, West of the Sun. There are no fantastical elements in it and it is therefore not typical of Murakami's opus, yet this novel about the protagonist's tragic inability to reach and sustain happiness is a genuine delight.

My most recent read, The King Amaz'D: A Chronicle by the late Spanish writer Gonzalo Torrente Ballestar, is different in tone and more reminiscent of Cervantes and Hasek. The theme of this brilliant book is about what happens when a seventeenth century Spanish monarch courageously decides, contrary to all decent expectations, to see his queen nude and how the Devil himself becomes involved in this delicate theological issue. I strongly recommend it if you happen to be fond of a healthy, intellectual laugh...

The last but not least is a debut novel I also very much enjoyed: The Steam Magnate by Dana Copithorne, a young Canadian author. I am quite certain Dana can count on a prosperous literary future.


At 7:35 AM, Anonymous kellys said...

Zoran: Thank you for bringing attention to these relatively obscure books. I always enjoy listening to others expound on their enjoyable reading experiences -- it's inspirational and makes me want to read more.

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very glad I was of some help.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Kundera is one of my all-time favorites also, and I am shamelessly aping his 7-part structure for my own novel.

I've heard lots of great things about Pamuk. A copy of Snow sits waiting on my bookshelf, and I'll soon request My Name is Red from the local library.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger dainfomaster said...

Part of the problem with the Good Soldier's obscurity might be Cecil Parrott:

" is a relief to get to page 752 in the clunky 1970's translation by Sir Cecil Parrott, once the British ambassador to Czechoslovakia but no literary stylist. ... [it] has such stilted language that reading it is a slog ... A more recent translation of the first volume, by Zenny K. Sadlon and Mike Joyce, is far more fluent." --Caryn James, Critic at Large, The New York Times

See also readers responses to the new translation at

Svejk has been largely misrepresented and misunderstood. You might want to visit . There is plenty to click on: You'll find things like the Czech Answer to Mount Rushmore; Bretschneider's Ear - The National Memorial of Eavesdropping And Wiretapping; Hors D'oeuvre à la Jurajda ['yoo-rai-dah] - An Apotheosis of Consumerist Lifestyle; Challenges of translating Švejk into English: A report on the experimental project of its "Chicago version"; Peter Steiner's Tropos Kynikos: Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Švejk; also a fascinating Holocaust connection of Svejk's ... and much more. :-)


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