e-book, 1. edition
translation: Short, David
published: november 2016
e-book formats epub, PDF, mobi
recommended price: 320 czk
This is a book about collective guilt, individual fate, and repentance, a tale that explores how we can come to be responsible for crimes we neither directly commit nor have the power to prevent. Set in the Czechoslovakian borderland shortly after WWII amid the sometimes violent expulsion of the region's German population, Jaroslav Durych's poetic, deeply symbolic novel is a literary touchstone for coming to terms with the Czech Republic's difficult and taboo past of state-sanctioned violence. A leading Catholic intellectual of the early twentieth century, Durych became a literary and political throwback to the prewar Czechoslovak Republic and faced censorship under the Stalinist regime of the 1950s. As such, he was a man not unfamiliar with the ramifications of a changing society in which the minority becomes the rule-making political authority, only to end up condemned as criminals. Though Durych finished writing God's Rainbow in 1955, he could not have hoped to see it published in his lifetime. Released in a stillcensored form in 1969, God's Rainbow is available here in full for the first time in English.
Within the Czech arts, the novella God's Rainbow is a unique direct reflection of the expulsion from Bohemia of the German-speaking population following World War II. In it Durych brings fully to bear all the elements of his poetics - a narrative that is replete with Symbolist oneirism, is highly expressive, spiced with irony and written in a rhythmical poetic language.
From the Afterword.
Jaroslav Durych, one of the leading Czech writers of the twentieth century, wrote God’s Rainbow (Boží duha) in 1955 and then kept the manuscript under a pile of coal in his cellar. He had miraculously escaped the forced labour meted out to fellow Catholic writers under Stalinism, but the discovery of this neo-baroque text would have sealed his fate. Not only did it preach Christian forgiveness, quote Latin prayers and allude repeatedly to the Marian cult, Mary Magdalene, Adam and Eve, the devil, hell and damnation, but it also challenged the official silence about post-war atrocities against Bohemian Germans. A censored version of the book was eventually published during the Prague Spring, six years after Durych’s death in 1962. The current translation by David Short, the first to appear in English, is based on the original text and represents a formidable achievement: it deciphers and conveys the beauty of Durych’s rich, poetic and notoriously challenging language.
Set in post-war Sudetenland, after two million Bohemian Germans have been expatriated to Germany, this is a story of guilt and redemption, revolving around the unusual love affair between a young German woman and her “sixty something” Czech visitor. The woman, who is illegally hiding in her former home, tells the visitor that she has been repeatedly gang-raped by Soviet soldiers, and then by the Czechs, who murdered her mother and mentally handicapped aunt. She is haunted by shame, just as the man is haunted by guilt on behalf of his countrymen. Their love symbolizes the reconciliation between the two nations. It is the God’s Rainbow of the title, appearing after a storm of violence.
Durych was of a similar age in 1955 to his male protagonist and, as his son writes in his memoirs, was also in love with a young woman. The protagonist’s description of the fear of old age and death, coupled with his despair about the contrast between his ageing body and mind and the youthful beauty of his beloved, is thus disturbingly authentic. Equally unsettling is his vivid depiction of the deserted Sudetenland, which resonates with the old man’s feelings: “Abandoned and weed-infested fields over which not even crows could be bothered to fly”; “Every house was like a tomb, everything was gaping into eternity”; “Doors ajar, and behind them a silent, frightful darkness”. Reciprocated love finally gives the protagonist a new zest for life: wish fulfilment, perhaps, for Durych, whose love for his young woman came to nothing.
Zuzana Slobodová, The Times Literary Supplement