An informative critical biography, commissioned by the publisher, of the great Czech writer (1890–1938), whose witty allegorical and satirical fiction and drama comprise a treasure trove largely unexplored by contemporary readers.
Klíma, himself an estimable fiction writer (No Saints or Angels, 2001, etc.), expertly layers in revealing details about the introverted Capek’s unstable health and frustrating romantic life (until his eventual marriage), friendship with Czech President Tomas G. Masaryk, and “efforts to educate the nation” as a consummate journalist and public intellectual. Klíma locates the sources of Capek’s rejection of absolutism in all forms (including that of Nazism, whose worst excesses he essentially prophesied) in his admiration for the American pragmatist philosophers—while also emphasizing Capek’s distrust of both America’s “worship of technology” and the oversimplifications of communism. Klíma also offers precise readings of Capek’s famous futurist plays R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (it was Capek who invented the word “robot”) and From the Life of the Insects (the inspiration for Russian writer Victor Pelevin’s 1998 novel, The Life of Insects); the Swiftian novel War with the Newts (1937); and the brilliant, partially autobiographical trilogy, including Hordubal (1946), Meteor (1935), and An Ordinary Life (1936). He furthermore whets readers’ appetites for new English versions of Capek’s 1925 novel, Krakatit, a probing analysis of the Faustian experience of creating, then harnessing a powerful explosive, which is his most Dostoevskyan and Lawrencian work, and the eerie philosophical play The Makropoulos Secret (also 1925), praised as one of Capek’s most successful fusions of idea and melodrama. Readers who have enjoyed recent translations of Capek’s provocatively entertaining Apocryphal Tales and Tales from Two Pockets will finish this eager to sample these and other works of Capek’s impressive (and, unfortunately, foreshortened) maturity.
A fine introduction to the work of a writer who ought to have won a Nobel Prize, and who richly deserves future generations of readers.