Original title: Nevstoupíš dvakrát do téže řeky
Genre: short stories
Druhé město, 2020
“When reading the stories of Jiří Kratochvil, I’m overcome by the tension I felt with the books of my childhood. How on earth can this madness be resolved? I ask myself. How on earth could someone make up something like this? And then I think of the author’s childhood; how he told his classmates such exciting stories that they would follow him around as though he were the Pied Piper. And I think of the young man who wrote a short story each morning before ritually burning it in the evening, as there was no place for him in the literature of Normalization. Third, I think of the esteemed, mature author, who wrote in a letter to Ludvík Vaculík: ‘For me, reality begins only when I put it into a story.’
The author calls these stories grotesque puns, sleights of hand for entertainment only. I concur with this assessment, and I applaud the motivation: at a time when mainstream Czech fiction is again becoming the heavy industry of literature (a quotation from the days of the socialist realism Kratochvil so despised), moments of wonder at the legerdemain feats of a magician in words are refreshing to say the least. But let us not be led astray by the author’s self-stylization; let us read, several times, ‘The Boy from the Taiga’, one of the highlights of this collection – for what lies (and darkly purrs) within, beneath the entertaining surface of a story about a brilliant Russian intelligence agent studying Czech literature in Prague for a secret, terrible purpose, is both topical and disturbing.
Although Kratochvil has just turned eighty, for me his playfulness makes him the most youthful of Czech writers. And were he to claim this book as some kind of farewell to literature, I doubt that Lady Letters would allow it. For without writers like Jiří Kratochvil, she would surely die of boredom…”
Ludvík Němec, writer