Original title: Liška v dámu
Druhé město, 2019
Magnesia Litera in the Prose kategory 2020
Rights sold to:
Poland (Stara Szkoła), Bulgaria (Ergo), Macedonia (Avant Press), Latvia (Izdevniecība Pētergalis), Egypt (Al Arabi), Ukraine (Komora)
Jiří Kratochvil is not the first writer to be enchanted by the fox – a symbol of freedom, ruthlessness, cunning and red-haired beauty. For instance, David Garnett’s novel Lady into Fox (1922) inspired Vercors to write Sylva (1961), in which a fox transforms into a woman. Kratochvil has brought these two stories together and set the result in the 1950s, a time when a merciless regime with a Master at its head and in which tomorrow means yesterday, is crushing human lives and suffocating freedom.
One storyline begins at the Pavlov Institute, where it proves possible to endow a fox cub with reason before turning it into a human being; naturally, this human is beautiful, and naturally, she is given a secret assignment. A second storyline is set in Brno, where an intelligent young labourer is being processed for service with the State Security police. Though trained for operations of many different kinds, the foxy beauty has no notion of emotion in general and love in particular – her comrade trainers have underestimated her need to understand them. We witness a tale of passion in which Sylva the fox falls in love with Pavel the labourer. Love is hope and a path to freedom. There is no need to reveal more.
Statement by the Magnesia Litera jury:
Jiří Kratochvil, one of the most translated Czech authors, represents a contemporary Czech prose that rejects traditional literary realism. Set in the 1950s, the novel Fox into Lady has two intersecting storylines. The more realistic tells of a young labourer from Brno called Pavel, a promising informer for the national security forces who, because of his gift for languages, is chosen to go over to the West to create a diversion at Radio Free Europe. The more fantastical story is that of a young fox. Stalin (referred to as the Master) sets scientists at the Pavlov Institute the task of transforming the fox into a woman. Called Sylva, this woman will head Westwards to murder Winston Churchill. The storylines come together when the two protagonists meet in the free world – after which life itself proves stronger than the intentions of those on high. The novel Fox into Lady is a tribute to the literary imagination; more than just a play of words and images, it is a powerful story of the interconnection and incompatibility of different worlds and a celebration of human and vulpine freedom.