Small book fair takes on the universe

Havlickuv Brod

This weekend, book publishers, book writers, and book lovers will descend on the town of Havlickuv Brod, which lies about halfway between Prague and Brno. It's the sixteenth annual Fall Book Fair in Havlickuv Brod.

The theme of this year's fair is "the universe inside us, and around us", and the undisputed star of the gathering will be the best-selling Czech author of recent times.

Like clockwork, author Michal Viewegh has put out a bestselling novel every spring for many years. This weekend at the Havlickuv Brod book fair, he'll introduce his next work.

Michal Viewegh
"Next Spring I'll bring out a book, Andele vsedniho Dne [Everyday Angels]. For me it's a somewhat unusual subject, because for the first time in my life I'll have completely imaginary characters, four angels....Originally my subject was going to be a musical, but perhaps you know the saying that the author sometimes doesn't find the subject, the subject finds him."

Viewegh, who's been compared to the British writer Nick Hornby, will also announce the winners of a contest to write a short story in his style. Viewegh wrote the first few paragraphs, which concern a middle aged ex-teacher who starts a publishing house so he can have a career that really suits his taste for cigars. The action begins - where else? - at the Havlickuv Brod book fair; Then it's up to the contestants.

"We got about 140 applicants, we chose 11 finalists, and we'll pick three winners. Why do it? Well, every good writer should be able to imitate the style of other writers, I myself was tempted, and wrote two literary parodies. It really was tough to choose the winners of this contest because the quality of the writing was really very good."

Havlíčkův Brod | Photo: Thalion 77,  CC BY 2.5
Founded in 1991, the Havlickuv Brod Fall Book Fair is the second-largest Czech-language publishing event after the one in Prague. In keeping with its theme this year of the universe inside us and around us, the organizers have invited The Czech Astronomical Society, who will lead a nighttime observation of the stars from Havlickuv Brod's main square.

Participants say this book fair is more intimate than the one in Prague, a place where book lovers can not only get autographs, but also chat with their favorite writers.

But what about non non Czech-speakers? I asked Martina Hejkalova, one of the founders of the festival, whether publishers would ever offer translations of authors beyond the old standbys: Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan Klima, and Milan Kundera.

"It's not just the same three names all the time. Jachym Topol is an excellent writer who's been translated into English. And Michal Viewegh has been translated too. But of course this is the problem for smaller languages like Czech - not everything can be translated into English!"