A Czech Dreambook
series: Modern Czech Classics
hardcover, 576 pp., 1. edition
translation: Turner, Gerald
published: october 2019
recommended price: 540 czk
It’s 1979 in Czechoslovakia, ten years into the crushing restoration of repressive communism known as normalization, and Ludvík Vaculík has writer’s block. It has been nearly a decade since he wrote his last novel, and even longer since he wrote the 1968 manifesto, "Two Thousand Words,” which the Soviet Union used as one of the pretexts for invading Czechoslovakia. On the advice of a friend, Vaculík begins to keep a diary: "a book about things, people and events.”
Fifty-four weeks later, what Vaculík has written is a unique mixture of diary, dream journal, and outright fiction – an inverted roman à clef in which the author, his family, his mistresses, the secret police and leading figures of the Czech underground play major roles.
Sparklingly translated by Gerald Turner, it offers a fascinating experience to British readers: the candour of Vaculík (who died in 2015), his insistence on presenting himself in lights both positive and negative, without spin – as when he reads Madla’s diary about his own infidelity, snooping on his own wife like a secret policeman – is especially refreshing in our current political climate.
In his Dreambook his frankness is also a deliberate literary stance, a warning to us not to trust in heroes. Yet as a writer and thinker he had one of the freest minds I’ve ever come across; so I am content still to call him one.
Julian Evans (The Telegraph)
A Czech Dreambook is not a “light read”; its main text weighs in at 536 pages split into dated diary-like chapters. However, it is an exceptionally compelling account of a mind and an era, presented here in English for the first time, 40 years after it was completed.
It is an irony, and a real shame, that the best Vaculík’s many international admirers can hope for is that his work will be compared to that of Milan Kundera and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a fine author of “the political novel.” A more considered view of A Czech Dreambook would be to regard it as a startling and original work of art describing the mess and the joy of being human.
Michael Tate (Los Angeles Review of Books)
Freud would probably have been a most eager and grateful reader of Vaculík’s book, but there is enough to fascinate others in Gerald Turner’s inventive and competent translation, expertly revised and contextualized by Jonathan Bolton.
Andrei Rogatchevski (TLS)