Reviews, Vol. 2.3, Sept. 2008
Translated from Czechoslovakian by Marek Tomin
Twisted Spoon Press, Prague 2008
Paperback, 154 pp., $14.50
Review by Cynthia Reeser
In an early chapter, titled, “Why the Crew of the Kursk Couldn’t Escape on its Own,” the middle-aged Honza discusses with his father how to spend an afternoon in Prague:
“If we take that path over there, walk through the little tunnel and up the hill, we’ll end up right in front of The Royal Park […]”
“And what are we going to do there?”
“It’s a pub.”
In Marek Tomin’s recent translation of the 2003 Magnesia Litera Book of the Year, Of Kids and Parents by Emil Hakl, Honza and his father are not on a walking tour, but inadvertently provide one for the reader throughout the book as they stop in and out of bars discussing topics that range anywhere from past lovers to the most favored models of airplanes to the worst drinks to the supernatural. The novel, written almost entirely in dialogue, has been compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses, and was made into a feature film this year.
The immersion in the novel is immediate, and the dialogue’s natural flow makes putting down the book a challenging task. The stories bandied back and forth in the discussions are by turns memorable, comical and haunting. There was the time a delivery of mannequins went quite badly; the tale of a friend who heard someone calling his name, only to walk toward the sound—no one there—and meet his death; memories of encounters with Nazis, near-escapes from death and life in the Cold War-era Balkans, whose history is “sombre and full of pathos like a German opera, […] there are always rivers of blood, severed heads roll about in the streets, and right next to them people dance and brass bands play.”
Running like a golden thread throughout the conversation as a whole is the trope “that we are forever enclosed in a grey, impenetrable sphere of smoke, excrement, and laughter. People, the Earth, the Universe and us, the kids.” The idea that “[n]othing’s been new in this world for more than two billion years, it’s all just variations on the same theme of carbon, hydrogen, helium, and nitrogen”.
In Dionisio D. Martínez’s “Rest before you sleep,” a poem dedicated to his father, he writes of the feet, that, “Perhaps they need to feel the gravel/ to know where they’re headed.” Written with uncommon honesty, Of Kids and Parents renders out the bottom line of what it means to be alive in a contemporary society that is critically aware of its history. In doing so, Hakl keeps his feet planted firmly on solid ground. Wherever it may lead.
Of Kids and Parents is the winner of the 2003 Magnesia Litera Book of the Year, and was recently made into a feature film.