City Sister Silver

by Jáchym Topol

Translated by Alex Zucker

"City Sister Silver is a first novel the way The Tin Drum and Midnight's Children were first novels
-- a prodigal astonishment; an emancipation proclamation."
--John Leonard, Newsday

"Readers embarking on City Sister Silver are in for an exhilarating, exasperating journey ...
kaleidoscopic and ethereal, full of motion for its own sake, with many memorable stops along the route."
--Neil Bermel, New York Times Book Review

"Topol's book is a fervent effort by a post-Cold War writer to break away from the familiar
dissident mode of his seniors and to stake out the fresh troubles that freedom--and, more to the point,
a raw market economy have spawned since the Velvet Revolution."
--Patricia Hampl, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Topol's phantasmagoric odyssey through a racketeering, polyglot, cultural stew
of post-Soviet Bohemia has been acclaimed as the definitive novel of a Czech new wave.
Catbird Press does great service to bring it to anglophone readers."

Jáchym Topol is the best-known young writer in Prague, famous in his youth as an underground poet and songwriter, and now famous for writing the book that has most successfully and imaginatively captured the dislocation brought about by the fall of communism: City Sister Silver.

Winner of the Egon Hostovský Prize as the best Czech book of the year, City Sister Silver is also the only novel of the 1990s included on a list of the hundred greatest Czech prose works (from a survey of Czech writers and critics done by the newspaper Týden ("Week"); it came in #26).

Always surprising and fast-paced, City, Sister, Silver is at once satirical and romantic, wild and controlled. The novel is full of storytelling, myths, dreams and nightmares, shifting through a variety of genres. It is a novel for readers who want an unforgettable reading experience.

What makes City Sister Silver so special is its language, its energy, and its ability to creatively capture the feelings that accompanied the opening up of Central and Eastern Europe in the 90s. It is a truly breathtaking book. There is, however, a protagonist, Potok, and a love interest, whom he calls Sister. In short, this is not a realistic approach to an important historical watershed, but rather a unique, imaginative approach. As one Czech critic wrote, "City Sister Silver tells me more about the epoch than many of the books that try so hard to articulate and explain the burning ideas of the day."

See the review excerpts and excerpts from the book itself to get a more concrete idea of what City Sister Silver is all about.

$19.95 paper, $40 cloth, 512 pages, ISBN 0-945774-45-1, 43-5

Order from your local bookstore via Book Sense

To read the first chapter of City Sister Silver, click here.

Only 37, Jáchym Topol has had an incredible life already. The son of an important Czech playwright, poet, and Shakespeare translator, he was, already in his twenties, the editor of the most important Czech samizdat magazine, Revolver Revue (not a translation), and he did investigative and foreign journalism for Respekt. His first book of poetry, I Love You Madly, won the Tom Stoppard Prize for Unofficial Literature. His poetry has been translated into many languages, including English, and was chosen by Allen Ginsberg for reading at a Celebration of Prague in New York City. Excerpts from his prose work have appeared in numerous English-language magazines and anthologies, including Daylight in Nightclub Inferno: Czech Fiction from the Post-Kundera Generation (Catbird, 1997), This Side of Reality: Czech Short Fiction (1996), Prague: A Traveler's Literary Companion (1995). He lives in Prague with his wife and daughter. For more information about the author, visit his author page.

Alex Zucker is the translator of Topol's novella Trip to the Train Station (1995) and the novel More Than One Life by Miloslava Holubová (1999). He lived in Prague for several years, translating and copy editing, and his translations have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. He grew up in Michigan and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The editor and translator of this book have, with the author's approval, deleted portions from the Czech edition of this book, totaling about 20 pages, for a variety of reasons. If you would like to read the entire novel as it originally appeared in Czech, you can read, download, or print out the deleted text by clicking here.

To see how City Sister Silver has been received by Americans, Czechs, and Germans, see below.

What People Have Been Saying About
Jáchym Topol's Novel City Sister Silver

A masterpiece of postcommunist Czech fiction.
--Talk magazine (included in April Talk 10)

Like all grand epics, Jáchym Topol's City Sister Silver ... demands to be read multiple times, so dense is it with allusion, metaphor and complexities of plot.
--Sudip Bose, Washington Post Book World

City Sister Silver is nothing short of brilliant. Topol's language is dense and apocalyptic, but his influences and intellectual fetishes (Vonnegut, Burroughs, Native American lore) should connect with American readers.
--Richard Byrne, St. Louis Magazine

Like most newly free societies, City Sister Silver is at once violent, confused, and limitless in possibility - and like most revolutions, it is nearly impossible to quit once begun.
--Peter Ritter, Rain Taxi

In pointillist, elliptical prose, Topol aptly captures the period's social dislocation, and the hallucinatory quality of even everyday experiences ... It achieves a level of horrific lyricism reminiscent of the ravings of a minor, denunciatory Old Testament prophet. ... the narrative acquires the power of truth transmitted through sharp-honed fantasy and resonant vision.
--Publishers Weekly

Topol is already being hailed as the supernova of post-1989 Czech fiction . . . and Zucker has emerged as a leader of what Daylight in Nightclub Inferno calls "the new generation," already ranking among the established translators.
--Randall Lyman, San Francisco Bay Guardian

City Sister Silver marks a turning point in Czech prose, the point when literary development must finally break away and, after all the fatiguing twists and turns and subtle departures, strike out in a definite direction. . . . the novel incorporates the tremendous hum of life and raw materials that has piled up with time, and does so with verve and with bold artistic stylization. . . . Topol's novel is a cross between a picaresque novel about the wanderings of Potok, the hounded narrator, and a breakneck-paced thriller complete with agents, spies, dead bodies, and mafiosi. . . . Weaving through the story is the motif of love. The amorous tension is evident from the first sentences, and following how that yearning escalates, emerging and working its way into clarity, is one of the greatest experiences of reading this book.
--Jiri Penás in Mladá fronta dnes

City Sister Silver is a vibrantly fresh work, an epic novel that can be described as 'post-reality grotesque.' Time itself has exploded, fragmenting reality into a myriad shreds. In reconstituting this atomized world, the author ignores conventional boundaries to summon up all the diverse powers of language. Dreams, picaresque adventures, hallucinations, myths, memories, news events interweave to conjure up the young hero's frightening--yet also comic and exhilarating--pilgrimage through the inferno of recent history. Alex Zucker's energetic English preserves most of the author's linguistic inventiveness and idiosyncratic verve.
--Peter Kussi, professor of Czech literature at Columbia University

In City Sister Silver, experience and imagination mix in a way that brings a new vitality to Eastern European literature. Its detailed view of reality does not lead to a political or moral indictment of the way things are or of those who fell from power. Instead, he has created an alternative world, an aesthetic space.
--Gregor Ziolkowski, Berliner Zeitung

A magnificent spewing of everything, a spewing that leads to thoughts of Kerouac, Genet, and Dante. ... City Sister Silver tells me more about the epoch than many of the books that try so hard to articulate and explain the burning ideas of the day.
--Sergej Machonin (Czech critic)

City Sister Silver is impossible to grasp using the usual clichés of criticism. The prose is wide-ranging and intricate, artistically ambitious and nonconformist. . . . City Sister Silver offers an opportunity to examine both our language and the values of our society.
--Antonín Alenka in Literární noviny

City Sister Silver is a one-of-a-kind response to the debate on whether and how it is possible to portray present-day reality in literature and art. It is ominously prophetic, one might say scandalous, and last but not least it is a good-natured spit into the somewhat cold soup of contemporary Czech prose. . . . Underneath all of the cynicism, savagery, and rapaciousness, the chaos of gruesome scenes and macho talk, one senses something else, perhaps futile these days, but for which it is worth striving even with the awareness that it is a losing battle: an almost archetypal sense of honor, goodness, and friendship. That is what makes City Sister Silver also a great novel about love, and some of the passages on this theme rank among the most penetrating and poetic ever written in Czech literature.
--Jan Gabriel, Literární noviny

City Sister Silver is volcanic: Topol's imagination suddenly rips out from under the earth with eruptive force, then cools off in the later pages, giving the reader a chance to relax. The book's most captivating sections, delivered with spontaneous energy and confidence, are actually the digressions -- poems in prose, near-mystical visions -- while the text of the main story line is constructed in a highly refined manner, a textbook example of literature. The author works with elements of both archaic and modern myths, plus ancient symbols, the established themes of the thriller, the comedy, and the horror, and also erotic literature and boys' adventure books.
--Viktor Lajchrt in Respekt

This extraordinarily talented prose debut is a first attempt at expressing, in a profound and very individual way, the feelings of a generation who entered life with a deep-seated aversion to the reigning social (the so-called socialist) order, who found themselves practically overnight in a society based on entirely different principles, a market society offering them countless opportunities.

But Topol's novel is anything but a sociological portrait of societal transformation. The hero passes through all sorts of fantastical situations: there are the dream-like images of a visit to Auschwitz, in which one of the heroes wades through the bones of the murdered; there are the dream-like chase scenes with mysterious foreigners; and there is a nearly journalistic account of the flight of the East Germans in the fall of 1989. The plot lines are so complex and interwoven that it makes no sense to summarize them; for that matter, the most important element of this novel is not the plot but the colorful and ever-changing way in which Topol articulates the feelings of the young generation (by which I mean not only the content, but also the language and the imagery).

Topol combines various literary approaches in an original fashion. He is familiar with postmodern approaches, but he is also not afraid to voice stinging condemnations of racism, mafias, the parasitism of "Eurojournalists," and the new post-revolution conformism. He alternates plot-rich passages with dreamy fantasy, lyrical images with images and scenes in which he is clearly trying to evoke the atmosphere of a contemporary myth. These mythical elements, woven throughout the novel's elaborate composition, are its most distinctive feature.
--Ivan Klima, Czech author of Judge on Trial and Love and Garbage

Catbird Homepage | Catbird Specialty Areas | Catbird Authors | Catbird Titles | Catbird Links