Prague rabbi pens literary hit of season

Karol Sidon, photo: Marián Vojtek

Just a few weeks ago the author of one of this season’s biggest literary sensations - Altschulova Metoda – was a mystery, a certain Chaim Cigan, an alleged émigré to Canada who spent much of his career translating technical writing. It turns out it was only a pen name, one that didn’t last.

Karol Sidon,  photo: Marián Vojtek
Originally, Prague Rabbi Karol Sidon had hoped his identity as the author of a new literary hit would remain secret for longer, at least a year, but it came nowhere close. As is often the case when it comes to pennames or books written under the moniker ‘anonymous’ (think J.K Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith or Joe Klein writing Primary Colours) the media quickly began speculating to try and pinpoint likely candidates.

Atschul’s Method is the first book of a tetralogy, mixing politics, prison cells and the secret police, with the Middle Ages, Moses and Jewish history – a science fiction thriller told across continents and epochs that has drawn comparisons to China Mieville, the author of Perdido Street Station and The Scar. On Czech TV, Karol Sidon, a playwright and screenwriter by profession, admitted he was the author of Atschul’s Method.

“I was surprised at how fast I was found out. I expected that it would take a lot longer. But in the end what choice did I have but to admit it?”

Sidon opted for a pen name in order to keep his work as chief rabbi (of both Prague and the Czech Republic) separate. He makes clear he had the intention of writing a speculative or science fiction series for some time.

Photo: Torst
“Before I began writing this I couldn’t read anything but what is considered lowbrow sci fi literature which I really love… The story almost unravelled by itself it was fascinating for me to watch what kind of stuff was going on in my head.”

As stated, Atschul’s Method is the first of four books; the next two in the series are already complete and will published at a pace of roughly one per year; the final instalment has yet to be written. The full tetralogy is entitled “Kde lišky davaji dobrou noc” – translatable as Where Foxes Lay Down to Sleep – a saying in Czech that refers to a far off or lost place, a place in the middle of nowhere, the sticks. As for the name Chaim Cigan? Rabbi Sidon didn’t just make it up: the name reportedly belonged to a family ancestor.