Everyday Spooks (Bubáci pro všední den)
hardcover, 226 pp., 1. edition
translation: Short, David
published: july 2008
recommended price: 390 czk
With famous Everyday Spooks (orig. publ. 1961), Prague-born Karel Michal presents an unforgettable assortment of fantastic creatures that inhabit his strange vision of everyday reality in '50s and '60s communist Czechoslovakia. Translated from the Czech by David Short and complemented with suitably eerie illustrations by Dagmar Hamsíková, this collection of seven short stories describes bizarre encounters where the past melts into the present, ordinary people meet comic and anxious figures and interact with ghosts, and mundane speech drifts repeatedly into absurdity.
In Everyday Spooks, Karel Michal shares a forgotten world populated by murderous dwarves, cockabogies, ghosts, and the grotesque Doodledor. Written in the communist Czechoslovakia of the '50s and '60s, Michal's stories reflect a strange in-between-ness, a realm caught between medieval folklore and the oppressive modern state. Here, otherwise simple language that wouldn't be out of place in a children's book - indeed, translator David Short calls these 'grotesque fairy tales' - intermingles with discussion of quotas, class, and government agencies. This childish form allows Michal the freedom to address what he considers the injustices of the state, and subversively note the absurdities he finds in Czech culture.
Though the translation of Everyday Spooks has yielded some interesting phrases - colloquial Czech and rural accents abound, and Short interprets these with such locutions as 'soddin' superslut' and 'bog-trottin' bitch,' as well as other equally hilarious and bizarre expressions - despite these idiosyncrasies, or perhaps because of them, Michal's little book of tales is charming, an unlikely but enjoyable marriage of the odd old world and the absurd emerging new.
Jeff Waxman (CONTEXT, Review of Contemporary Fiction, University of Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, pp.244-45)
Everyday Spooks: Timeless Fables
[…] Hrabal and Hašek lean more strongly toward dialogue and language, such as Prague dialect. They also often use the pub as the environment for their humor, and their language is more vulgar. Hašek's humor is the most pessimistic of the three as it is marked with bitterness and cynicism. In Hašek's works the protagonists do not take action, while in Hrabal's and Michal's writings the characters are often doing just that. As in Kafka's works there is a sense of hopelessness in the protagonists' actions. Yet in Kafka's prose the characters invent their own problems; in Michal's writings they do not (unless one considers all the tales to be figments of the main characters' imaginations). Like Michal, Hrabal wrote about Stalinization during the freer 1960s, giving him a sense of perspective.
Thus, the fables bring to light such negative aspects of society as the individual's hopeless plight versus bureaucracy, amorality, and betrayal. Michal also portrays how man tries to get rid of that which he cannot understand or attempts to pretend that which he cannot comprehend does not exist. While such themes hold true for mankind in general and therefore can be considered timeless, they also serve as commentary on Communist society. Employing grotesque humor and personified creatures or animals makes the pieces unbelievable yet, at the same time, more believable. Thus, Everyday Spooks and the author Karel Michal have carved a significant place for themselves in Czech literature.
Tracy Burns (Kosmas, Vol. 22, 2, Spring 2009, pp.98-102)