American author Rober Fulghum arrives in Czech Republic to promote second volume of his novel

Robert Fulghum, photo: CTK

The American writer Robert Fulghum, the author of such bestsellers as "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" and "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It" enjoys huge popularity among Czech readers and his books always rank very high on the list of bestsellers in this country. Robert Fulghum is now in the Czech Republic, promoting the Czech translation of the second part of his novel "Third Wish" - which is described by the Czech editor as a "pentalogy in three volumes".

When Mr Fulghum came into our studio, I asked him first to explain that rather complicated phrase.

"Well, it all happened because my Czech editor wanted to publish the novel as it was written. So while some day in English it will appear in five sections, here the first two sections were in a volume, and now the second two, and then the final, so it's only confusing because of my editor wanting to do it now."

The first two volumes of "Third Wish" have been published in Czech and the last volume is due in April next year. The first part was the first ever commercial publication of the novel - before anywhere else - now how did that happen?

"Well, it's again because of my Czech editor. She had published all my other books translated from English publications and she heard I was writing a novel, so she said: I want to see it before you finish. So I sent her the first two sections and she said I want to publish them now. And I said the rest is not finished but she said, no no, it will be finished. So it was because of her enthusiasm that it happened this way. For me it's been a lot of fun. I'm thinking: what if it ends terribly and she doesn't want to publish it? But I am finished now with it all and she wants to publish it all, so we're OK."

You enjoy enormous popularity among Czech readers. I know you must have been asked that question countless times but - what do you think it is about your writing that fascinates specifically the Czechs?

"Well, when I first came ten years ago to visit and see why my books were doing so well, an editor who worked for another publishing house said it is because my translator is a better writer than I am. Apparently my Czech translator knows how to take my words and make them good for the Czechs. A more serious answer is that while I acknowledge that there is lots of trouble and evil in the world, I tend to talk about what everybody sees that is evidence that there are also good things to see in the world. I'm always saying to people the news of the world is not in the newspaper. That's the bad news of the world. The news of the world is it's a beautiful day in Prague today, don't miss that. So I think there's an optimism, and I'm very serious but I have a sense of humour and I think the combination of speaking the truth but finding a reason to laugh is appealing. My sense of humour, apparently, is Czech."

How many times have been to the Czech Republic?

"Four times. This is the fourth. And I will be here again in the spring."

Are you in touch with your translator here and do you discuss for example puns or allusions to American culture in your books?

"It's very unusual for an author to know a translator. I don't know why this is. He's one of the few that I know but we have become very good friends and we like language and like words a lot, so he always feels free to ask me back and forth - which, again, is unusual. I only know personally one other translator, my Greek translator. Last year my Greek translator met my Czech translator and they talked to each other in English, which was fun for me to listen to."

The first part of Third Wish came out here last year in November and it was nearly impossible to get it before Christmas. You probably know the sales of your books in this country - how do they compare with other countries outside the United States?

"I know you will find this hard to believe but one of the reasons I like my Czech publisher is we never talk about these things. I am very honest in saying to you I have no idea how many books of mine have been sold in the Czech Republic. We never talk about this. We talk about what's in the books a lot. I'm not sure they know either! But it's one of the reasons I like coming here because the publisher is more about ideas than about success and making money. I have no idea for example where I am on the Czech bestseller list. We never talk about this! So they are very special people in that respect."

Are you familiar with Czech literature or film? And if so, do you have a favourite author, filmmaker?

"Well, I know most of the Czech writers who have been translated into English: Skvorecky, Kundera, Kafka - the new and the old. 'The Good Soldier Svejk' was the first one I read. But I am very, very fond of Czech film. I have seen a lot of Czech film. 'Closely Watched Trains' is one of my all time favourites but my personal most recent favourite is the last film the actor [Vlastimil] Brodsky did. The title in English is 'Autumn Spring'. I have seen that over and over. I want to be that kind of mischievous old man. I'm sorry that his life ended the way it did but that film was very inspiring to me."

Robert Fulghum,  photo: CTK
This is a busy week for you, book-signings, on-line chats, interviews, a TV talk-show - do you find during your stays in the Czech Republic time to stroll around Prague or see some more of the country?

"Well, not as much as I would like. They keep me very busy. But next spring I am going to come and spend a month. Maybe I will wear a mask or a bag over my head and go around. This time we have gone to Broumov and we're going Ostrava and I will see more of the Czech Republic."

Before we came to the studio, you mentioned that you listen to Radio Prague...

"Yes! I have satellite radio in the United States and I listen to the English language broadcasts. So it must be you, I have heard your voice in the middle of America. I think that's so amazing. The world is so small, you know!"