Original title: Steiner aneb Co jsme dělali
Petrov 2001, 2002
Slovenian (Mladinska Knjiga, 2005, Nives Vidrih), German (Piper, 2006, Mirko Kraetsch), English (Pálava Publishing, 2016, Andrew Oakland), Italian (Keller Editore, 2018, Laura Angeloni), Macedonian (Muza, 2020, Igor Stanojoski), Bulgarian (Ergo, 2021, Margarita Rumenova), Spanish (Sajalín Editores, 2022, Enrique Gutiérrez Rubio)
In telling the stories of several generations of one family, the author sketches the development of Czech society in the recent past. His version of history is replete with humour and hyperbole, as well as emotional depth.
The protagonists live in difficult times. The book observes in some detail more than fifty years of history, opening in the pre-war period, giving a view of the plight of the German minority that remained in Czechoslovakia after the war, proceeding to the Russian occupation of the late Sixties and the subsequent persecution, before taking in 1989’s Velvet Revolution and beyond.
The Invincible Seven received an enthusiastic response from critics and readers alike; it has been through two editions in the Czech Republic.
Martin Fahrner about his book:
My father really was a football player who later worked on a railway siding. My grandmother was a rail switch lighter at the station in Lysá nad Labem, and my mother worked at a department of ophthalmology, where she treated some of the minor wounds and scratches I sustained while rock-climbing. I have reimagined certain real people and situations so that they better suit the purposes of my book. Some of them are entirely fictional: I wasn’t writing a diary, and I wanted to protect the privacy of my family. I made things up mainly because I wanted to tell the stories of people who seek the most important thing in life: its deeper meaning. My book is a tribute to all those who never give up this struggle.
From the preface in the English edition of the book (by Martin Reiner, Czech publisher and award-winning writer):
Martin Fahrner talks about the most important things in life in a manner that entertains and moves us.
His claim that it’s worth playing for the good guys has the power to convince sceptics. In today’s world, that’s no small message.
The book in detail:
The novel’s German translator Mirko Kraetsch came up with a far better title for it; in Germany the book was published as Die Hand in der Luft (Hand in the Air) in recognition of one of its motifs. One of the protagonists is Steiner the father, a professional footballer who points his raised hand at the skies in celebration of every goal he scores. In his choice of title, the translator captured a basic idea of the story – the quest for a path to carry us upwards, the need for a canopy or vault over our personal lives.
Life is not easy for our protagonists because of the time in which they live. The book observes in some detail more than fifty years of development in Czechoslovakia, opening in the immediate post-war period with a look at the plight of the German minority that remained in Czechoslovakia, proceeding to the Russian occupation of the late Sixties and the subsequent persecution, before taking in 1989’s Velvet Revolution and beyond. The events described are well supported by historical fact – the author is a graduate of History who at the time of the Velvet Revolution was a student at Prague’s Theatre Academy; as events unfolded he observed them at close quarters and in great detail.
Although the book is no chronicle in the common sense, it follows the lives of three generations of Steiners. The first generation is represented by Grandpa Steiner, who is drafted into the Wehrmacht because of his German origins but after the war stays with his family in a Czechoslovakia that has become hostile to all Germans. Steiner the father, the hero of the middle generation, never feels better than when he is on a football pitch. Such is his love of the game that he tries to apply the clear, concise rules of football to life beyond the sporting arena – and this in a communist and post-communist era that is such a shambles that at first sight no rules can be divined, and where the rules that do emerge are quite absurd.
Steiner the father is a hero to his offspring Steiner the son. In his childish credulity the son strives to follow the father’s example, thus growing up with a peculiar take on what is going on around him. It is as though the world were one great football stadium, in which two teams – the Good and the Bad (who must be defeated) – are engaged in perpetuity in one match.
The book is narrated by Steiner the son. To begin with he is a small chap with a slight understanding of the world, a state of affairs that invests the author’s hand with a great emotional charge and his eye with an interesting, highly subjective distortion. For instance, when the boy’s tricycle ends up on the barricades during the Russian occupation, the boy perceives the passage of the tanks through the town of his birth only insofar as this affects his tricycle. In this way the non-traditional chronicle assumes the aspect of works of the ilk of Forrest Gump.
Through the narrator’s gaze the book becomes an intriguing tissue of motifs, where each event is seen not by its crude outlines but in the light of events long past or experiences formed on the basis of what someone else has lived through. In spite of this, all motifs converge unstoppably so that by the end of the book they are one – the striving to move upwards and go further, notwithstanding personal problems and the confusions of the era. To reach the great beyond.
"As a reviewer, I should remain untouched by the emotion generated by the course of a story, but I failed in this completely when reading Fahrner’s book. His gentle storytelling and captivating bittersweet tenderness so much overwhelmed me that all I could say after I read through the last page was: Bravo. For me, the book of short stories Steiner or We Did is this year’s literary jewel."
for, Nové knihy
"Steiner or What We Did is a highly readable and utterly extraordinary book. It is definitely going to be useful to remember the name of its author."
Ladislav Nagy, Lidové noviny
"Only few times in my life have I felt such joy at the simple art of an uncomplicated literary capturing of our hard stagger through the course of life. What is more – I have not encountered such a gentle storyteller in a very long time."
Michal Schindler, Tvar