A cultural history of Czechoslovakia, told through the stories of artists, writers, and performers whose lives were completely and often strangely altered by the various pressures of the times.
The story of Eduard Kirchberger is one of the fascinating and absurd cases that this book collects: in the 1920s and '30s, Kirchberger was a writer of pulp fiction, the author of bestselling thrillers in which gruesome monsters preyed on helpless women. When the Communist government came to power in 1946, they banned genre fiction for ideological reasons, so Kirchberger reinvented himself as Karel Fabián, author of equally lurid novels in which ruthless capitalist exploiters preyed on defenseless workers. It was a clever substitution that is indicative of the feints, dodges, compromises, and sleights of hand that the citizens of Czechoslovakia became accustomed to over the course of the twentieth century, during the eighty years between the founding of the nation and its peaceful dissolution in 1993.
Elegantly written, Szczygiel's book captures the stories of authors, artists, signers, actors, and other prominent individuals whose lives were subject to extraordinary reversals, and who responded sometimes with dignity and courage, sometimes with bald opportunism, and often with a particularly wry Czech sense of humor--for instance, the peasant who, in 1939, as the Germans were advancing, said: "You can only die once. And if you die a little earlier, you're just dead for a little longer." From the Bata shoe empire to Kafka's niece, Szczygiel has dug into the archives and talked to the principals, where possible, and to their family members, descendants, journalists, writers (including Milan Kundera), historians, and ordinary citizens to assemble a unique and powerful testament to how strange things can actually get in the course of human affairs--and how individuals survive regardless.