Guide to wartime Prague wins top literary award

Photo: Academia

A guide to the nation’s capital under Nazi occupation has won the top Czech literary award. Guide to Protectorate Prague, which provides details of hundreds of locations and events that occurred in the capital during the war, picked up the main prize at Tuesday’s Magnesia Litera awards, along with the prize for best non-fiction book of 2013.

Photo: Academia
The winner of the Magnesia Litera award for the book of the year was announced at the New Stage of Prague’s National Theatre on Tuesday night.

The top award – along with a cash prize of CZK 200,000 – went to Jiří Padevět’s 800-page Guide to Protectorate Prague. The jury said it provided a detailed insight into the atmosphere of the city during the Nazi occupation, inviting readers to reflect on Czech history.

Speaking to Czech TV shortly after the ceremony, Padevět – who runs a publishing house – said the book had been the result of extensive research over many years.

“It’s not a strictly scholarly work; I’m not a professional historian. It’s more of a hobby for me. I researched the book using other works on the topic; I went to archives and I also spoke to contemporary witnesses.

“I found that archivists in particular are great people who can find exactly what you need. I went to many institutions – the Jewish Museum, the National Archive, the Security Services Archive, and others.”

Although too big to be practically used as an guidebook, the book locates all major and many minor events in wartime Prague and lists the addresses of everybody who was anybody. It’s also an intriguing read for anyone interested in what life was like in one of the most dramatic periods in the city’s history. Jiří Padevět again.

Jiří Padevět,  photo: CTK
“It was a time when people had a choice of acting as cowards or heroes, and everybody did what they could. Some of the stories are very strong; my favourite is the story of Oldřich Frolík, who provided weapons for the paratroopers. When the Gestapo came to arrest him, he shot one of the officers dead and wounded another two before driving off in the Gestapo car, along with his wife.”

The Magnesia Litera award for best novel of 2013 went to Skutečná událost, or A True Story, by Emil Hakl, which explores the limits of fighting back against an abusive state. The prize for best book of poetry, meanwhile, was awarded to Kateřina Rudčenková’s Chůze po dunách, or Walking on Dunes. The most popular book according to a readers’ vote was Zdeněk Svěrák’s collection of biographical stories entitled Po strništi bos, or Barefoot through Fields of Stubble.