Sunday, 15 July 2018

A Normal Life

Before I became a 100% beer obsessive, language was my thing. And by extension literature.

Fearing forgetting my French, I started reading its classic literature: Gide, Flaubert, Maupassant, De Beauvoir, and loads more. Oh, and "La Modification" by Michel Butor. A book that hugely influenced my writing style.

Hearing English knowledge was zero in Czechoslovakia, I decided to learn a little Czech before my first visit in 1983. It was the start of a weird obsession.

I took evening classes, and tried to repeat my French upkeep. I tried to read books with the aid of a dictionary. Hard, hard work with a language as different from English as Czech. But I can be a stubborn bastard at times. What else was I to do on my boringly long commutes?

As well as being able to order beer and pork, Kundera played a role in part interst in learning Czech. I'd been impressed with what I'd read in translation. But after my experience with French literature, I realised that I needed to taste the real thing. Direct. With no trnslator inbetween.

Once I'd cracked reading literary Czech, an amazing world opened up. Wonderful, imaginative books. Hasek, Capek, Paral, Klima, Hrabal and more. A vibrant, playful tradition.

"Válka s mnohozvířetem" (War with the Multibeast) by Paral, is one of the craziest things I've ever read. I couldn't get it out of my head for years.

But one book really spoke to me. Obyčejný život (An Ordinary Life) by Karel Čapek. (The man who invented the word robot.) Saying how apparently boring lives conceal unexpected depths.

Not sure where this is going. Other than learn shit - it's worth it. Don't choose stupid.


Matt said...

I would guess that any attempt by the English-speaking tourist to speak Czech when visiting Prague or Plzeň goes a very long way with the locals.

Dan Klingman said...

Unfortunately, all too common here in the USA...

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid learning Czech is something I'll never do. But somehow I once picked up an English translation of Capek's Apocryphal Tales and I'd very, very highly recommend it.

His take on Alexander the Great is a very insightful take on the warped, self justifying logic of empire builders, and his story of the Nativity from the viewpoint of the owner of the stable is wonderful.

Anyone who was declared public enemy #2 by the Gestapo ranks extremely high in my opinion, and the fact that he refused to truck withe Communists gets him bonus points as far as I'm concerned.