Original title: Klikař Beny
shortlisted for Magnesia Litera in the Prose category 2022
The grimy, crumbling 1980s world of workers’ colonies, pubs and household-waste sites, and the bizarre characters who inhabit it.
Having left home to escape an abusive father, young Benny finds refuge at a dump run by the eccentric Fabrikant. Benny, the disabled Hanny, a drifter called Julča and Benny’s brother Viťan make up a strange ‘family’, in which each has secrets and dark sides, as well as a Hrabalesque ‘pearl at the bottom’. Benny needs to avoid doing his basic military service, to earn a little money, and to find work, a place to live and – above all – time to devote to photography, his only passion. In the real socialism of the early 1980s, what appear to us now to be simple, banal matters were high-risk adventures barely within or even against the law. And the danger was particularly acute if you were only just twenty and not ready to think things through.
The novel Lucky Beny is a loose continuation of Simona Bohatá’s second book Everybody Sucks.
"Describing a book as a "social novel" these days is just asking for discreditation... but you won’t find a better description of Lucky Beny / Klikař Beny by Simona Bohatá.
The brutal demolition of old Žižkov in the 1980s meant the lives of its inhabitants were disrupted, which is also dealt with in the author’s novella Everybody Sucks / Všichni sou trapný (2019). Now this novel, which is a loose sequel about a lad whose friends from the scrapyard are much more important to him than his parents, focuses on a description of the last decade of Normalization from the standpoint of those already “excluded”. They, too, have their desires, rituals, joys and sorrows, as well as ideas of what’s fair and what isn’t. (…) No ideology, no historical padding, no lamentations or philosophizing. Just trying to balance on the brink and live, kind of, with both eyes half-closed; a sentimental read, but nicely pulled off."
Jakub Šofar, Právo, Salon
"The 1980s, a Hrabalesque gang, a photographer as the chief protagonist and workers’ communities with their pubs and scrapyards. An authentic novel from the fringes, raw, with pearls in its depths.
A study of the recent past, both bitter and humorous, snappily narrated in short sentence bursts. (…) The novel Lucky Beny is just the kind of book to grab you with its graceful mastery and its cinematic vision of the world."
Klára Kubíčková, Vlasta
"This novel about a factory worker with a deep love of photography is a persuasive account of grey everyday life under Normalization.
Overall the tone of the narrative is relatively calm and conciliatory, depicting the little everyday events going on around Beny and his friends (...). The relationships between the foursome in question exemplify something typical of the novel that we might describe as a messy idyll — the men and the lad may not have that much, and God only knows what their prospects are, but they get on well together, so they don’t usually give each other a hard time.
It is this particular idyll discovered by the author in troubled times and in somewhat less than congenial circumstances that is one of the novel’s key strengths and the reason why the reader becomes absorbed in the text.
It’s easy to succumb to Simona Bohatá’s narrative thanks to its earthy style and the way the plot meanders naturally. Those who give way to this flow may well regret it towards the end; this book is not easy to put down."
Daniel Mukner, ČT Art
"When the family, the education system and the state apparatus fail, you still have good friends to rely on, but who would go looking for them in a scruffy scrapyard in Prague’s Vysočany? With precise strokes and without idealization or ideology, Simona Bohatá portrays the raw, flaking, worn-out reality of 1980s Normalization, a reality in which rudeness, bullying, denunciations, deceitfulness and time clocks are omnipresent. Beny stands on the threshold of adulthood with just one desire -- to take photos. No sooner is he out of the clutches of the draft board than the sword of Damocles of “parasitism” hangs over him. However, this determined young man will not let gruelling work in a factory get him down, so in suspense we watch him moving step by step closer and closer to his dream with the support of his loyal friends and thanks to a happy combination of circumstances.
Thanks to the juicy dialogues that have been so nicely reproduced, the author has managed to create characters so full-blooded that we can almost feel their pulse, and with every page we worry about them more and more and keep our fingers crossed for them. Each chapter is a perfect tragicomic moment. Although it might seem that Simona Bohatá is following the Hrabal line of Czech prose, she soon sets us straight on that, as she confidently forges her own path as an author. Even though she leads us to the vanished places of Prague -- to Žižkov before its demolition and to the “China” emergency settlement in Vysočany -- she finds a more general message to be of greater importance, i.e. that you can retain your moral integrity even in unfavourable circumstances. Where there is internal strength there is also freedom."
Statement by the Magnesia Litera jury