The bleak humor of the surrealism finds a crack in the Iron Curtain.



An often powerful and occasionally unnerving collection of stories from a half-century ago.

The “time of the cult” to which the subtitle refers is “the cult of personality” through which Stalin’s postwar dictatorship extended into Czechoslovakia. Published for the first time in English, the stories in this slim collection represent an era, a country, and an author who are all long gone, yet the timelessness of the best of these stories attests to a human spirit undimmed by the darkest of circumstances. “Life, strangely enough, is constantly being reinvented and loved...,” writes Hrabal (Harlequin’s Millions, 2014, etc.) in “Beautiful Poldi,” the elegiac story that closes the collection and brings the narrative of the titular Mr. Kafka full circle. “It is still magnificent as long as one maintains the illusion that a whole world can be conjured from a tiny patch of earth….Life is fidelity to the beauty that is exploding all around us even, at times, at the cost of our own lives.” The industrial Prague he depicts here finds women who are convicts or prostitutes (or both) relying on their powers of seduction, while men who are merchants, artists, or madmen (or all three) speak of ideals at odds with the survivalist instincts of the animals they have become. In “Ingots,” a doctor of philosophy proclaims, “I believe in people who wrestle with their fate,” while a woman suffers a brutal, dehumanizing gang rape. The psycho-political slapstick of “Betrayal of Mirrors” pivots around the obsessive repetition of a pair of mantras: as an artist insists (mainly to himself), “Can’t stop now! Must keep going!” while a stonemason laments, “It’s not easy being a decent communist these days.” The inscrutability of the opening “Mr. Kafka” leaves the reader off balance, but readers and characters alike adjust to a world gone askew.

The bleak humor of the surrealism finds a crack in the Iron Curtain.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2480-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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