Original title: Liliputin. Povídky z války
Genre: short stories
English (Seagull Books, India / England, 2023, David Short)
Rights sold to:
Somewhere in the human heart lies Red Square.
A Czech in Ukraine in search of his alter ego. A gang of homeless kids driven from a cellar by tenants using it as a shelter from the war. A German couple who ‘rented a womb’ in Ukraine, whose child is now stuck in Kyiv. A teenager partnered with a Valkyrie for the distribution of lavash in besieged Mariupol, who delays his flight until it is too late. A Russian woman academic mounting a protest in the centre of Moscow, in a costume from Swan Lake. They may not be soldiers at the front, but for the characters in these stories, life will never again be as it was before the war.
Jan Němec has produced a work that could hardly be more different from Ways of Writing about Love / Možnosti milostného románu, his previous fiction. One thing hasn’t changed, though: he is writing not about ‘themes’ but about what really matters in life.
‘The war fuelled me with an anger I needed to write about. I wanted to know what fiction can do right now – without the benefit of hindsight, without separation by several hundred kilometres. I wrote five stories – two of the west, two Ukrainian, one Russian – as someone might light one cigarette after another. They all talk about war, but it’s not always clear who the enemy is,’ says the author.
"Jan Němec is a seeker by nature. Drawn to hitherto undescribed places, he looks at the world in a way that reveals depths beneath its surface, and his descriptions of what he sees are never less than evocative.
It is superbly composed fiction, rich in plot, full of life-like protagonists interestingly drawn.
Those texts are excellent whenever circumstances suddenly throw an unprepared character into an unnatural situation for which he has no reflexes or models of behaviour. (…)
The key topic, i.e. the question of what is normal behaviour in a war situation, is asked very searchingly by Němec. And the way he has linked the stories up with the automobile motif is a literary masterpiece."
Petr A. Bílek, Aktuálně
"Jan Němec presents various situations and images from war-ravaged Ukraine, characterized by interwoven history writ large and writ small, most often involving relational, maternal or erotic themes, with events in the occupied territories and in the aggressor’s country. The reality of war is not depicted as something ghastly; it is illuminated rather in all its banality, its terrible simplicity, as something that people adapt to.
The author shows sensitivity in his evocation of ambivalent elements and his ironic grasp of them, thus managing to avoid a pathetic tone. He succeeds in illuminating individual fates and events in all their paradoxical, unpredictable nature. (…) Although he wrote the stories during strong emotional turmoil and within four months - from the beginning of March to the end of June 2022, as stated - the individual prose pieces were not hastily stitched together, they are thematically well-developed and confirm that Němec is up there with the best Czech writers."
Pavel Horký, Tvar
"Němec knows very well how to work with motifs and images. (…)
Němec neutralizes the pathos that lurks around every corner of this topic with colourful expressions and the deployment of the appropriate type of humour."
Johana Horálková, Iliteratura.cz