Book of photos surprise winner at Magnesia Litera Awards

It was a big night for literature on Monday night, as representatives of the Czech publishing industry gathered at Prague's City Library for this year's Magnesia Litera book awards. The awards have been going since 2002, and include prizes for Best Work of Fiction and Best Translation.

There was a big surprise at this year's ceremony. For the first time in the short history of the awards, the main prize - Magnesia Book of the Year - went to a book of photographs. The book, entitled "Bohemia", features black and white images of the Czech countryside taken on large-format, old-fashioned wooden cameras by the photographer Jan Reich.

Martin Smaus,  photo: CTK
The best work of prose went to a book called "Selske Baroko" by Jiri Hajicek, which is about a contemporary village in the Czech Republic and problems with the restitution of property confiscated under the Communist regime. The Discovery of the Year went to a book called "Devcatko, rozdelej ohnicek", or "Girl, Light a Fire", by Martin Smaus. The book is about a gypsy boy, and spans the 60s to the present. What's interesting about it is that Martin Smaus is something of a part-time writer - he's actually an electrician from a small town in Northern Moravia.

Magnesia Litera is the only annual prize-giving event for Czech literature, somewhat surprisingly for a country that has produced such literary giants as Franz Kafka, Ivan Klima and Milan Kundera. Until Magnesia Litera came along in 2002, there was no annual prize for literature.

"Magnesia" is the name of the award's sponsors - the popular mineral water Magnesia. Awards like this can't survive without sponsorship - even the country's annual Andel music awards are now called the Allianz Andel, after a German insurance company.