by Karel Čapek
Translated by Norma Comrada
Drawings by Paul Hoffman
“Keep Wayside Crosses just down the shelf from Kafka, or Bruno Schulz;
put Painful Tales near Chekhov or Babel. They may not equal the very best
literature of the century, but they will not be out of place in its company.”
—Dan Halpern,The New Republic
“[Wayside Crosses is] the most experimental fiction [Čapek] ever produced.
It is best described as a collection ... of secular parables. ... These are mystery stories
which lack solutions, in which metaphysical McGuffins provoke abstract speculations. ...
[Painful Tales is] Čapek's most conventional story collection ...
The stories offer a bleak view of human relationships.”
—Leo Carey, Times Literary Supplement
Cross Roads, Catbird’s third volume of stories by Karel Čapek, consists of two early story collections, one written during World War I and the other written shortly thereafter. The first of these collections, Wayside Crosses, has never appeared in English. The second collection, Painful Tales, appeared in English in 1930 as Money and Other Stories in a mediocre, and practically unknown, translation.
The first collection, Wayside Crosses, is concerned with how one experiences the absolute. These metaphysical tales involve discovering our spiritual limitations and appreciating our sense of mystery. Like most of Čapek’s stories, these are searching tales about searches, sometimes detective stories that do not follow the rules and do not have solutions, that are about a different sort of detection. Others are about apparent miracles that have no explanations. When answers are found, they are sudden, fleeting moments of intuition that cannot be communicated. Some of the stories also represent Čapek’s first attempts at literary cubism. These stories are essential to understanding Čapek’s oeuvre and his lifelong search.
The second collection, Painful Tales, consists of more realistic stories about characters being forced to make choices in which one good conflicts with another. “Here people act badly, cowardly, cruelly, or weakly,” Čapek wrote, “and the whole point is that you cannot condemn any of them. … I wanted to show man in humiliation and weakness, without debasing his value as a human being.” Here Čapek’s search, as well as the reader’s, is for sympathy and tolerance, learning to judge the characters for their self-doubt and self-torment as well as for their acts. But Čapek was also trying his hand at a relatively traditional form of literary storytelling; the results feel somewhat like the stories of Balzac or Maupassant.
The stories in this volume are fascinating in terms of their artistry, their perspectives and, in Painful Tales, their view of some of the darker and sadder sides of human nature. Together, they provide an excellent view of a young writer both trying to find his voice and trying to cope with the horrors of the First World War.
Karel Čapek (Chop'-ek) (1890-1938) was the leading story writer, novelist, playwright, columnist, and children's book writer in Czechoslovakia during the 1920s and 30s. His plays appeared on Broadway soon after their first production in Prague. Nearly all of his major, and many of his minor, works were immediately translated into English and into many other languages as well. This is the seventh volume of Karel Čapek's works to be published by Catbird Press.
Norma Comrada has translated Karel Čapek’s Tales from Two Pockets and Apocryphal Tales, as well as the play The Mother and several stories and feuilletons in Toward the Radical Center: A Karel Čapek Reader. She has retired from a long and varied career and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Paul Hoffman is an artist living in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
$14 paper, $23 hardcover, 256 pages, ISBN 0-945774-54-0, -55-9. Also available as an e-book.
To read an excerpt from Wayside Crosses, in PDF format, click here.
To read an excerpt from Painful Tales, in PDF format, click here.
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