Original title: Rybí krev
Magnesia Litera 2013 - Book of the Year
Macedonian (Begemot Dooel, 2014, Margareta Karajanova), Belarussian (Lohvino, 2015, Svetlana Rogac), Bulgarian (Paradox, 2016, Vladimir Penčev), Polish (Książkowe Klimaty, 2016, Dorota Dobrew), Ukrainian (Komora, 2017, Iryna Zabiiaka), Serbian (Ammonite Books, 2020, Alexandra Cimpl Simeonović), Albanian (Ombra GVG, 2020, Ani Hafizi)
Rights sold to:
Italy (Keller editore), Slovenia (Didakta), Korea (Marco Polo Press), Germany (Karl Rauch Verlag)
The author continues his exploration of the Czech village that we last saw in the prizewinning Rustic Baroque / Selský baroko.
We find ourselves in southern Bohemia as the 1980s give way to the 1990s. After fifteen years abroad Hana returns in 2008 to a half-flooded village on the banks of the Vltava. Here she grew up. Here she wished to marry and become a teacher at the one-class school. But everything turned out differently. Now she stands alone on the deserted village square. Hana has the courage to look back, to put questions to herself and those who once meant a great deal to her. People over forty wish to put their affairs in order, to draw a line under old issues and sources of pain – this is what Hana tells herself as she meets her father, brother and childhood friends after many years apart from them.
The new novel is first and foremost about the disintegration of a family and of a village in a completely different set of social circumstances. The theme of the displacement and demolition of a community so that a nuclear power station can take its place is certainly a topical one that needs to be addressed at a time when the future of other villages is under threat – at any place in the world really.
But Fish Blood is not any old ‘green novel’; above all it is an absorbing human story of three friends from a small village whom fate has scattered across the world. It is a story with strong echoes of longing for family cohesion, and it is about the power of love and forgiveness.
"In his novel Selský baroko / Rustic Baroque, Jiří Hájíček, one of the most original living Czech prose writers, told us much about the era of rural collectivization. However, it is his Rybí krev /Fish Blood, a realist prose work devoid of politics and sentiment, about the ties between people and a location, set against the backdrop of the depopulation of South Bohemian villages due to the construction of Temelín nuclear power station, which perhaps speaks loudest to the present. The fight for one's home, the expulsion of man by machine, the endeavour to subdue the landscape, progress suppressing tradition, an elegiac requiem for the landscape, the confrontation between history with a small h and with a capital H, the continuity between the two regimes, the end of the old and the beginning of the new, and the marvellous atmosphere of the countryside: a "green" novel with the parameters of antique tragedy."
Daniel Konrád, Hospodářské noviny, 30 years of reflection, November 2019
"Fish Blood is further proof of Jiří Hájíček’s ability to develop a story subtly and smoothly and his flair for dramatic escalation. Here is a crystallization of his distinctiveness and his style."
Ondřej Nezbeda, Respekt
"Jiří Hájíček has quietly occupied a space that was practically vacant – the one earmarked for prose based on solid, realistic storytelling.
[…] the reader appreciates the disciplined and purposeful construction of the plot, in which each of the characters has his or her place, story and logic."
Jiří Peňás, Lidové noviny
"Thanks to its thematic perfection and splendid literary qualities Jiří Hájíček’s novel-chronicle Fish Blood is primed for a Magnesia Litera award.
Hájíček’s choice of theme is a perfect one. While it is possible to summarize the plot in a few sentences, its layering in years serves up doses of hope that turns to despair with each passing winter. The friendships and loves of the heroes undergo common tests such as break-ups, quarrels, pregnancy, illness and death. So natural is the author’s representation of life, he might have invented a way of stamping an impression on the page without a single hesitation; there are no forced attempts to invest his heroes with more than a non-fictional person can bear.
[…] He has again written a book whose literary qualities are beyond dispute and which contains unaffected truths about people, forgiveness and the eternal desire to get to the root of things, no matter how rotten this may be."
Klára Kubíčková, MF DNES
"In the bleak environment of contemporary Czech fiction there is one author who writes prose that is at once conventional and clever: adventurer of the mainstream Jiří Hájíček."
Vojtěch Varyš, Týden
"Hájíček’s language is plain and simple. There are several contemporary Czech authors who write better sentences or paragraphs than he does. But no one writes a better novel."
Aleš Palán, Hospodářské noviny
"Hájíček’s narration is unaffected; it appears to copy real life and its natural course. The characters are very vividly drawn and events fit the logic of the story. The progress of the novel is clear and easy to follow and there are no great dramatic twists. […] Hájíček is a master of description and unforced concentration of atmosphere. He takes powerful themes and processes them with great honesty."
Martina Macáková, iliteratura.cz
"Jiří Hájíček’s theme has great topical relevance. Hundreds of small tragedies have occurred owing to great buildings to which the little man has had to submit. The public rarely hears of these, learning instead about speculators who make quick fortunes from ‘fluke inspiration’. The description of a village’s agony is vivid; the reader is drawn into the oppressive, sombre atmosphere and must make his way through it. Every detail touches a sensitive area. Gradually the village, trimmed back on all sides, becomes a desolate place.
The powerful story of Jiří Hájíček’s book is underpinned by a number of secondary themes such as family relations, problems between father and son, and friendship and its abuse. This author has no difficulties in communicating ideas and investing his story with an emotional charge. Yet he is sparing of the reader’s feelings; there is no danger of his turning this into a tale of heartbreak that will reduce sensitive women to tears."
Jiří Lojín, vaseliteratura.cz
"Fish Blood is a novel tinged with nostalgia, an exploration of what used to be and what has remained. […] Without doubt Hájíček’s best book so far, the writing is natural and the theme – a requiem for a landscape people are forced to quit – a serious one."
Radim Kopáč, Týdeník Rozhlas
"What kind of novel is this? Rustic? Socially critical? Psychological? Historical? Without exaggeration we can assign all these attributes to Fish Blood while silencing all those who claim that contemporary Czech prose has no themes and does not represent the present. […] Here is a contemporary Czech novel that is alive, painfully topical and naturally readable. And it has the chance to enter the proverbial canon (and to win prizes). The author’s most extensive novel so far, it is probably his best.
Few contemporary Czech writers of prose are able to write such real, ‘knowable’ beings. These are real human types from our own lives. Often they struggle to express themselves. They are not drowning in the innermost recesses of their own souls or to be pitied for their passion, nor are they racing through a high-suspense plot towards a brilliant denouement."
Vojtěch Vaner, literarni.cz
"Details that emerge out of the slow, almost ghostly tempo – a kind of calm before the storm – build gradually into a riveting testimony.
With Fish Blood Hájíček has become a master of intimate drama. The ordinary and everyday are vivid in their effect; the blend of detail is altogether plausible. At the same time the author’s informal style – no strained metaphor or affected layering of semantic imagery as freed by the postmodern imperative – always succeeds in creating the right atmosphere."
Eva Klíčová, Host