Hello and thanks for joining me, Dita Asiedu, for another edition of the arts and before I introduce you to a new book by Ivan Klima that's hit the Czech and is soon to hit the U.S. shelves, it's a happy belated birthday to musician Ivan Mladek who turned 60 on February 7th this year.
And we now move on to another man who deserves praise and that's probably one of the most popular and significant Czech dissident writers, Ivan Klima who has released a new book. The publication, which is currently being translated into English, looks at the life and works of Czech novelist, playwright, story writer and columnist Karel Capek. Nothing new, you may say, but this book has been especially written for non-Czechs in order to give a more detailed and somewhat different explanation of the person that Ivan Klima believes Capek to have really been. Radio Prague met up with Mr Klima to find out more about his latest work:
"My book about Capek that has just come out contains completely new text, which differs from what I have already written about Capek in my thesis and several biographies, the first of which I wrote in 1963. Capek is a popular author, thanks to his tales that have been released in various publications and collections. The Tales from Two Pockets for example, were much more famous than his plays. I also think that today there are very few performances that could do his plays justice."
"Capek was very political and was one of the most important advocates of democracy between the wars. His articles were extremely educational and sometimes make you think they were written today, as they go hand in hand with the situation we find ourselves now. They prove that the many bad habits and poor political culture we suffer from today was not a result of our Communist past, but simply a Czech tradition."
Capek died of pneumonia in 1938, at a time that was tragic for Czechoslovak and European history. That is probably why those who have written and studied his works have developed the opinion that his fate was, in its own way, somewhat tragic. With that, they grouped him in the category of big Czech personalities, traditionally considered as martyrs. Ivan Klima, however, opposes this view of Capek. He believes that the truth is quite the opposite - Capek had a life of ups and downs, just like anybody else, but loved his work from which he obtained enough satisfaction and acknowledgment.
"Towards the end of my book, I point to the fact that Capek was considered too much of a martyr, that he was hunted down during the times of the 2nd Republic. I am not the only one who feels this way, many of his friends see it as a somewhat Czech tradition to look for a victim amongst the more famous personalities. In the book, I tell the reader that he lived a happy life but I also include the fact that he had to go through a difficult personal crisis. Although he really was very sick, he was not the only one with an illness. He also had problems with women ...but what I find important to stress is that he was one of the few Czech intellectuals who never had to go through this leftist period through which many other Czech intellectuals had to go through - he really was a democrat from beginning to end."
Capek's plays appeared on Broadway, soon after their debut in Prague, and his books have been translated into numerous languages.
"Out of all the Czech literature from the interwar period, there really are very few significant writers left. When you look at those who wrote in Czech you're only left with Lancura, Hasek, Capek, and that's all. So, he was a great personality and amongst other things continued with a Czech tradition where great writers became superb journalists. It started with Havlicek continued with Neruda and Capek and today it's Vaculik, for example."
"He was a person who wrote mainly for the press and his significance today - as opposed to the time he lived in when he was mainly famous for his plays - lies more in his excellent newspaper articles. These actually included the Apocryphal Tales and the Tales from Two Pockets which were written for the papers. He was a great personality and a great user of the Czech language. If you read his books you get the feeling that they were written in the 21st century whilst when you read a book written in the same period, it's almost unreadable because the language is so old-fashioned. With Capek, that's practically never the case, which is one of his great strengths."
And that is why Capek is considered the greatest Czech author in the first half of last century - especially across the Atlantic, in the United States thanks to Catbird Press.
"The book was written for a U.S. publisher who publishes selected writings from Karel Capek, and wanted to release a biography about him. I therefore wanted it to be easy reading, so Capek would captivate the Americans. I certainly think it's a mistake when authors use jargon typical of literature. Readers don't like it. I also look for a link between 'life' and 'work' because as an author, I'm convinced that it is very important to know that link, to understand it, and show how the work is authentically personal. With Capek and Kafka - two writers who always tried to hide that link - it is very interesting for the reader to find out how their works relate to their lives."