The Book Institute also reports that Mariusz Szczygieł and his French translator, Margot Carlier, have just been awarded the prestigious Prix AMPHI for the book GOTTLAND. Previous recipients of the award include: J.M. Coetzee and Catherine Lauga du Plessis (2002), Jonathan Safran Foer and translators Jean-Pierre Carasso and Jacqueline Huet (2004), Fleur Jaeggy and Jean-Paul Manganaro (2005), and Robert Menasse and translators Marianne Rocher-Jacquin and Daniel Rocher (2007).
Szczygieł’s GOTTLAND was published by Wydawnictwo Czarne in 2006 and nominated for a NIKE Award in 2007. It is a reportage about the lives of Czech people under Communism. Here’s a description of the book from the Czarne website, via the Adam Mickiewicz Institute’s portal culture.pl:
A collection of reportages about the Czechs and how they were caught up in the times they lived in. Czechoslovakia and the Czech lands—Gottland—is a country of horror, sadness, and the grotesque. Mariusz Szczygieł’s GOTTLAND has nothing in common with the stereotypical image of a country of jokers who kill time drinking beer.
Actress Lída Baarova—the woman who made Goebbels cry; sculptor Otokar Švec—author of the largest statue of Stalin on the planet, who decided to kill himself before he had completed his creation; a genuine niece of Franz Kafka’s who lives in Prague to this day; singer Marta Kubišová, whom the communist regime forbade to sing for 20 years and erased her recordings from radio archives; legendary footwear manufacturer Tomáš Bata, who founded a town he fully controlled 10 years before Orwell came up with his ideas; writer Eduard Kirchberger, who re-created himself and became Karel Fabián, and many others—these are the heroes of the book. Through their colourful biographies, Mariusz Szczygieł describes the times they (and we) had to live in. He writes about the inordinate price they had to pay for seemingly minor decisions, about the tragic coincidence of chance and destiny that shaped the lives of entire generations.
Here are a couple of blurbs from Adam Michnik and Agnieszka Holland, from the Czarne website:
“An intelligent, compelling, and necessary book. By narrating the fate of ordinary people, Szczygieł tells the complicated history of our neighbors to the south. With his fascination for Czechoslovaka’s unique culture and everyday life, its sense of irony, humor, and sarcasm, he reminds us of the Czech encounter with ‘history unleashed.’ We cannot help but read these narratives through the prism of our own history, which only makes them more captivating. Our fates were similar, but all the more different for that. An exciting book.”—Adam Michnik
“A wonderful book. The horribly depressing panorama of Czech lives in the 20th century. (Which includes the new century, too, which is no less depressing.) What has always attracted me about Czech history is its constant, dynamic, tragic and simultaneously humorous ambiguity. Mariusz Szczygieł comes out of the tradition of Polish reportage and applies his own method to that ambiguity. The effect is incredibly powerful, original, and suprising. I found the majority of these portraits to be extremely evocative. It has been a long time since I’ve undertaken such an intense journey back to the experiences, questions, and preoccupations of my youth. But reading this book also made me profoundly sad. I hope there will be a sequel to these reportage-essay-stories (even their genre isn’t fully defined), that a kind of catharsis may be possible, that it may yet be possible to slip the trap of Central European history.”—Agnieszka Holland
GOTTLAND has been published in Germany (Suhrkamp), France (Actes Sud), Hungary (Europa), Czech Republic (Dokoran), Italy (Nottetempo), and is forthcoming in Russia (NLO). There’s more info on the book, plus an excerpt in English, as well as on Szczygieł, available here.