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From the January 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 1)

Jachym Topol

Literary Prince


Debora Kuan
Assistant Editor

He is sometimes called the youngest classical writer of the Czech literary world, but make no mistake, novelist and poet Jachym Topol, 39, is authentically punk.

While his award-winning novel Sestra (City Sister Silver, 1994) shows influences of Dante’s Inferno and Meyrink’s The Golem, it also speaks the Russian and Czech slang of the streets, achieving the effect of raving, “raw post-Babylonian”—in the words of his protagonist, Potok—prophecy.

Topol, the son of Josef Topol, a renowned playwright, began writing in the literary ghetto of the samizdat—underground literature published unofficially during the communist period. Topol knew at that time that none of the state publishing houses would print his work, which dealt with the difficulty of living under communism, so he didn’t even bother trying. Instead, he became an activist. At 24, he signed his name to Charter 77, the declaration written in 1977 that called on the government to respect human rights. He was jailed numerous times for his anticommunist activities.

Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, however, Topol has had no trouble getting his work published. His first formal publications came out in the early 1990s; they were two volumes of poetry—Miluji te k zblazneni (I Love You Madly) and V utery bude valka (The War Will Be on Tuesday).

But it wasn’t until Topol started writing prose that he was launched into the limelight. Literary critics praised his novel Sestra as an artistic but merciless view from within, which captured the social dislocation that characterized the “velvet hangover” after 1989.

Topol is wary of the praise. He says he is not fulfilled by being the most successful Czech writer. When asked about life and writing after communism by Prague’s Transitions Online, he said, “I love freedom. It was terrible to battle with the communist beast...but I still regret a bit that [the feeling of] the prince killing the evil dragon has gone away.”


 
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