Karel Čapek – Life and Work

by Ivan Klíma

Translated by Norma Comrada

"[Klíma] brings a novelist’s perspective to the proceedings, allowing
readers to appreciate the depth and thematic complexity of Čapek’s writing.
The result is a valuable introduction to one of the little-appreciated
but significant figures of modern world literature."
--Library Journal

"Contemporary Czech writer Klíma fulfills his commmission to introduce Karel Čapek
(1890-1938) to American readers near-perfectly. He inserts enough Czech literary and political history
into this biocritical study to reveal Čapek as Czech literature’s Hawthorne and Whitman: its
first formal prose master and its outstanding democratic voice.

"[Čapek’s works] deserve our attention at a time when, mercifully, the two messianic ideologies
that silenced Čapek are a thing of the past and possibly the humane democratic society in which he believed
is beginning to unfold. If anything, then, his works are more timely now than when he wrote them, and his lightness
and sureness of tone, his ability to combine elements of fable, psychological realism and science fiction, of satire
and parody, but most of all the obvious pleasure he takes in the old-fashioned art of storytelling, make him a joy to read."
--Michael Henry Heim, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Klíma delves into the meaning and sources of Čapek’s writings, bringing out
both the personal and socio-historical context of his writings. ... Karel Čapek - Life and Work is literary
which, by the author’s own admittance, is not exhaustive, but strikes a good balance between documentary evidence
and the emotion of a eulogy for a good friend."
--Georges Dodds, SF Site

Karel Čapek – Life and Work is a look at this important pre-war Czech author through the eyes of one of the most important post-war writers, Ivan Klíma. It is a personal essay from a writer’s more than a critic’s point of view. And although originally written in Czech, the book was commissioned by Catbird and was therefore written with foreign readers in mind; in other words, no prior knowledge of Čapek’s writing is required.

        Klíma focuses on the way Čapek’s relations with women – filial as well as romantic – affected his writing. He also focuses on the tension between Čapek’s art and his philosophical and political ideas. Klíma’s book includes many excerpts from Čapek’s letters and essays, as well as from his family’s letters and memoirs, material that has never before appeared in English.

       Klíma has long had a special interest in Čapek, something unusual for writers of his generation (the so-called Prague Spring generation, which includes Milan Kundera, Václav Havel, and Josef Škvorecký) who grew up in Čapek’s enormous shadow and, for the most part, either rejected or tried to ignore him. Klíma grew up in the same area where Čapek grew up (the foothills of northern Bohemia) and wrote his master’s thesis on the author, at a time when he had to careful what he wrote about such a “bourgeois” writer. And in the late 1980s, Klíma wrote a play about Čapek’s last days, Kora Nanda.

       Ivan Klíma is best known here for his novels and stories (Judge on Trial, Lovers for a Day and, most recently, No Saints or Angels), but he is also highly regarded at home for his plays and his essays (collections of his essays have only recently begun to appear in English: The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays and Between Security and Insecurity (Prospects for Tomorrow)). His story collection My First Loves won the Egon Hostovský Prize for best prose work of the year in 1990 (the first time it could be awarded in Prague) and his story collection My Golden Trades won the George Theiner Prize. Klíma’s works have been translated into 31 languages.

       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 Cross Roads, 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, varied career and lives in Eugene, Oregon.


$23 hardcover, 266 pages, ISBN 0-945774-53-2.

To read an excerpt from Karel Čapek, in PDF format, click here.

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