Original title: Zahrada
Polish (Stara Szkoła, 2023, Miroslaw Śmigielski), Macedonian (Muza, 2023, Igor Stanojoski)
How to live with an unasked-for white elephant
A long-uninhabited villa with a neglected garden. A crushing loss to overcome. Thirty-five-year-old Jaroslav Havlát returns to his childhood home with his life at a crossroads. After botching his ‘career in the church’, he intends to follow a new path, on his own terms at last. He may be struggling with burnout, loneliness and feelings of alienation in respect of everyone and everything, but not all hope has been extinguished. He finds his only refuge in the neglected garden, his work in it his only joy. In splendid isolation among trees, shrubs and flowers, he attempts to find the self he has lost and some meaning in life. Little by little, he gets to know his neighbours and tracks down sources of his alienation. The latter process is sometimes a fraught one: acquisition of self-knowledge is more terrifying than he could have imagined. Where to draw the line between rejection and acceptance of the unacceptable? Will he find even one person to understand him and lend a helping hand? Is there any way out of this darkness?
A brilliantly written, intimate drama about an inner struggle, this book will test the reader’s tolerance, empathy, and willingness to consider and ‘trust’ the seemingly unacceptable. Perhaps for the first time, a Czech novelist has addressed a certain highly taboo, deeply intimate subject in a sensitive, non-sensationalist manner.
Maybe I’m exploring the line between a weakness that a person ‘has’ and where this weakness is a part of the self. In Crows, the narrative was weighted towards childhood, which is always pure and innocent. In The Garden, I tell the story of an adult who has done a lot of living, some of it good, some of it bad, as tends to happen. Whereas Barunka in Crows could rely on the reader’s support, for the protagonist of The Garden I’d say sympathy is harder to find.
"This latest work by the writer Petra Dvořáková, The Garden, is a powerful story in which forgiveness is not easy to find.
(…) In her prose work Dvořáková only asks the questions — she leaves the specific answers to whoever reads it. She offers readers a story about uprooting and the labels we put on others in a plot whose subject is very different from what people here are used to with Czech literature. It mercilessly confronts you with yourself, with your prejudices, with your unwillingness to forgive, even at moments when everything is not as it may seem at first sight.
The Garden simply makes you think from a different angle about the things you want to have very far away from yourself and your family..."
Lenka Hloušková, Novinky.cz
"Petra Dvořáková is an experienced Czech author who normally works skilfully with all layers of language in her texts and repeatedly confirms by her choice of topics that she is not one of those writers who just sticks to established formulas or the current mood in society. The same applies in her latest book, the novella The Garden."
Alžběta Dvořáková, lliteratura.cz
"The hero turns into an anti-hero, a bully; a poor anxious man suffocating in an asthma attack in the middle of a dilapidated building. Few would be able to keep a cool head...
Otherwise it’s like Thomas Vinterberg’s famous film The Hunt. However much the chief protagonist is absolved, the stigma remains. The blame is fixed once and for all, whatever the objective reality may be. Never mind the facts. “People can be pigs,” says one of those who have not been swept away by the wave of collective madness (in the final paragraph) , in which the chief protagonist of the story is ultimately just a lightning rod for the unfortunate and sad lives of the others.
Although Dvořáková places God at the plot’s vanishing point, which is clinically not far from mass hysteria, her story is about more: a willingness to discuss — and an effort to accept difference and otherness. It is in this message that The Garden is strongest."
Radim Kopáč, Idnes