Novelist Michal Viewegh: My popularity is a false image, but I'm not complaining


Michal Viewegh is one of the most popular and most translated Czech authors today. In his best known novel Bajecna leta pod psa " - The Wonderful Years of Lousy Living - the author satirically describes the grey times of the 1970's and 80's in communist Czechoslovakia when he was young. One of the reasons why his books are so popular is that the readers find there a piece of their own destiny. I met Michal Viewegh in a café of one of the biggest Prague bookstores and asked him whether he believes his books are equally appealing to readers abroad.

"Well, I must confess, it's always better than I would expect. Even when I had been very sceptical it turned out very well. For example, I was once at a 'Czech Culture Week' in Copenhagen, were the reading organizers chose two of my literary parodies. These were the parodies about the infamous communist professor Rzounek from the Philosophical Faculty. I thought what a nonsense; 'the Danes will have no clue who it is'. But they took it as a parody about a communist censor and reacted actually at the same places as the Czech readers did. And I have the same experience from most of the readings abroad."

When you write a book, do you try to think about making it comprehensible in that way?

"Well, they sometimes suspect me of writing in a way that it is better translatable or of writing so that the scenes are less expensive for filmmakers...., but it's nonsense. If I took care about these things I wouldn't write literary columns about the Czech political scene or the literary parodies about completely unknown Czech writers, and so on."

You are one of the most popular and successful Czech writers. How do you explain your success? Why are your books so popular?

"Well I have to admit that I have also been a bit lucky. I had this manuscript of my novel ready when people expected something of this kind - about the time of communism and so on. I should be also grateful for the laziness of Czech journalists; when I received the Jiri Orten Award for my book, journalists' interest really snowballed. So it is a sort of false image, but I am not complaining. At the same time I hope that I am also good at my profession, that there is humour and a good story in my books, as well as plenty of sincerity. And these are the things that readers have always appreciated, and I think, they always will."