Original title: O bílých slonech
Druhé město 2008
German (Balaena Verlag, 2020)
This shorter work of prose is set in the not-so-distant past in a village close to the town of Beroun in Bohemia. In the course of one week, in short, interconnected episodes, the children´s counting-out rhyme works itself out: Luck, Bad luck, Love, Marriage, Doll, Cradle, Countess, Death. The prose has a subtle, balladic tuning; the atmosphere evokes the billowy air of summer over baked asphalt, through which true narrative jewels flash discreetly. Exquisite reading!
Complete English translation available on request.
White Elephants – one reason to ask about totalitarian rule
"White Elephants, the new book by Irena Dousková, comes over in a similar spirit to that of her B. Proudew and Onegin was a Rusky – the action is again set against the background of the communist regime and the ever-present fear of the times, shared both by adults and children.
Nevertheless this latest work by Dousková actually makes quite pleasant reading. Human stories are the same under all regimes, and despite the fear and the powerlessness there was also love. In any case Dousková is just as oddly tough as she always was, using colloquial language in her narrative and not just in the dialogues between her (rural) characters, with a painter's sense she dabs on a sad autumn omen here and there into the late summertime. The butcher's van, the grey old man and the dreadful timetable rollers, whose meaning and usage instructions we do not know to this day, evoke memories of the eighties, which readers can revisit with ease from the very first pages of the book.
Children's counting rhymes are somewhat reminiscent of Radůza's lyrics – sometimes laughably simple, but with the power of everyday poetry, as if bearing the message of an ancient myth. Just like the tale of the petrified white elephants or the Jewish girl hidden in the cave.
Going back twenty years
The chapters entitled Joy, Sorrow, Love, Marriage, Fable, Cradle, Sable, Death, refer to a children's ditty, which in a billowy summer field could take on balladic overtones regarding the finiteness of human life. However, the orange hue of Lucie Lomová‚s illustrations moves from summer to autumn and just as the latter must inevitably come round in the cycle, so too must the final chapter on death, which in the story of the grey old man and the tragedy of the countess driven out by the Communist regime intertwines with those of the previous chapters.
White Elephants is shorter and simpler to read than Proudew, but then again it is easy to imagine it being filmed or staged. The characters emerge distinctly out of these hundred pages. Such emergence was referred to specifically by Umberto Eco when he reproached Hemingway‘s old man for saying of himself „I am a tired old man“: „Don't say it, old man, show it!“
Dousková is able to do this – she will never say what her character is like in a long-winded description, but the reader will get to know this from briefly sketched situations and behaviour. That is also why Dousková is such rewarding material for the theatre – the images emerge from her books of their own accord.
White Elephants will take older readers back twenty years and remind them of the absurdity of the era. After reading this book, younger readers will have a reason to ask their parents how they lived at the time, if they were also afraid, how much they gave way to it and why there were queues for meat at the butcher's van and pork tenderloin was only to be had under the counter.”
Rated: 90 %
Klára Kubíčková, MF DNES