Original title: Liška v dámu
Druhé město, 2019
Magnesia Litera in the Prose kategory 2020
Latvian (Izdevniecība Pētergalis, 2021, Jānis Krastiņš), Macedonian (Avant Press, 2022)
Rights sold to:
Poland (Stara Szkoła), Bulgaria (Ergo), Egypt (Sefsafa), 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.
Complete English translation available
"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."
Statement by the Magnesia Litera jury
"Kratochvil’s mastery resides in this ability to maintain balance between an admittedly somewhat disjointed reality and a fixed or limited set of options, which can only include whatever drives the plot forwards. Hence animals turn into people, and people turn into animals, while an ice cityscape of Prague appears in the Siberian tundra, an English teacher dies blissfully in the spirit of Kafka’s Trial and a nuclear suitcase holds a remarkable provision on the protection of foxes. In full compliance with Aristotle’s rules on beginnings, middles and ends, a narrative unfolds about senseless cruelty in senseless times, power without conscience, the homeland and the inescapable influence of our actions on what and who we become."
Hana Řehulková, Host
"In postmodernity everything is possible. Apparently. Seventy-nine-year-old Jiří Kratochvil manages to make the dark 1950s light up like a colourful fireworks display, inducing unease, as if you are touched by a dark claw from Lubyanka, the Communist torture chamber in Moscow.
In his latest work Kratochvil also confirms his position as one of the most prominent contemporary Czech artists. Like no one else he manages to combine chilling horror with wild abandon, as a past master in the use of contrasts and transformations.
The fox turns into Sylva, which at the initial level might be read as the transformation of the old world into a new, unscrupulous one. However, the transformation is not sustainable, the fur starts to grow back on the fetching young woman’s back, she forgets the languages she has learnt and instead begins to understand animals again.We could also see it as the expression of hope that the Communist transformation would have its end. In view of the narrative’s broad straddle, we might find any number of such associations. Is transformation a trap or grounds for hope? And are we really capable of being transformed?"
Aleš Palán, Aktuálně
"So this is a mythological-naturalistic love story set against the backdrop of an early 1950s spy thriller. But instead of developing an adventure plot and fulfilling the readers’ expectations (for example, we might even think the lovers will get away with it), at a certain point the narrative shifts gear and turns into an elegy over a lost lover, a love story about a foxy femme fatale who has to abandon the human world and return to her animal form.
For greater clarity it might also be said that Fox into Lady looks like a surrealist with zoophilic tendencies has wandered into a Graham Greene spy novel and made a bit of a mess of it. And at the same time he sets traps and lures in the form of allusions, i.e. references and quotations from canonical works: of course, where there’s a metamorphosis there’s Kafka, as well as Nabokov, whose perhaps most beloved character, Professor Pnin, makes a direct appearance here, as if a novelist who no longer needs to care whether anyone actually understands him just wants to amuse himself."
Jiří Peňás, Echo
"Is this a tale of a romantic stripe, or a parable of human instability, the willingness to tear off and shake off the skin of culture and civilization and let naked instinct fully shine through? Is the bigger animal a Secret Police swine, with a sexual pathology straight out of the notorious Krafft-Ebing manual, or a russet fox, who even in her animal form resembles a refined lady?
Kratochvil’s latest work combines the general with the specific, the temporal with the timeless, the local with the global. And again as in the case of his fiction over the last few years, e.g. in The Bitter Maliciousness of Living / Jízlivá potměšilost žití (2017) this text is – covertly but clearly – rather engagé.
Ultimately, Fox into Lady is a great novel by a great author, which gamely holds its own both on the domestic and the global scene."
Radim Kopáč, Lidové noviny
"As in Kratochvil’s previous books, Fox into Lady draws the reader’s attention not only with the unusual structure of its story but also with its irony and sarcasm, which the author uses to expunge any kind of sentimental gushiness, even though there is no lack of emotion and no lack of sex, eroticism and love."
Eva Škamlová, iliteratura.cz