Today's the 38th anniversary of 1968's Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Below's a relevant excerpt from Pavel Brycz's I, City, to be published this fall by Twisted Spoon Press.
An Appearance, Occupied
Translated by Joshua Cohen and Marketa Hofmeisterova
When remembering the Russian occupation of August 1968, I think of painting. And that of painting the apartment of an ordinary family in an ordinary apartment block on my main street. Mr. Novák stands atop a stepladder, dips the brush and above the paper cap on his head lays on broad swaths of white paint. Mrs. Nováková stirs the paint for him and every now and then hands him a beer, with a pointed warning: “Karel, don’t you fall down!”
And Mr. Novák first goes glug glug glug, and then claims: “True enough, though after beer I have a little difficulty with my feet on the ground, on this stepladder I don’t seem to have any problem at all . . .”
And though I could continue describing the beautiful dialogue of this married couple, who bring yin and yang, the anima and animus, and so philosophy, peace, and harmony even into ordinary painting — the brother of Mr. Novák all of a sudden bursts into this idyll and roars: “Dear people, while you’re painting away here without a care in the world we’re being occupied!”
Mr. Novák quickly climbs down the stepladder, and indeed without it he wavers a bit after the beer, and together with his wife Marenka and his brother Breta they open the doors to the balcony to hear the same sound they had all heard before in their strollers and as men in the army, a sound they wished never to hear again, especially on the main street of their city.
“Now it’ll never dry!” Mr. Novák proclaims, gazing at the tanks tearing the asphalt of the main street with their treads, their noise tearing the eardrums of those great pals of Mozart, those pitch-perfect Czechs, the pennyweight heroes for whom Blaník had been exchanged for Bílá hora.
And for ages men disappeared into pubs and boys didn’t grow up to be men, though their dreams were of such kind as if they had long ago formed The Brotherhood of Cremation.
Pavel Brycz was born in 1968 in the Czech town of Roudnice nad Labem. A graduate of Prague's Drama Academy, he worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency where he produced the Czech slogan for KFC (roughly translated as "damn good chicken"). He is the author of six books. For I, City he was awarded the Orten Prize and in 2004 he received the State Prize for Literature, its youngest recipient ever. In English his work has appeared in the anthology Daylight in Nightclub Inferno (Catbird Press, 1997). Currently he teaches Czech language and literature at a Gymnasium in Liberec, hosts a weekly children's program on Czech radio that narrates legends from around the world, and writes lyrics for the Balkan-chanson-folk band Zdarr.
Photo by Karel Cudlin