Trans — Pavel Hak (2006)
Setting: A dystopian, yet all too possible, global future.
What it’s about: A wild, frenetic novel that follows a refugee who flees a brutal police state, only to encounter more cruelty and violent on a long, global journey, through Africa and European prison camps — all reduced to their worst possibilities, several circles of hell.
The “hero” Wu Tse, starts of as a slave labourer in a country very resemblant of North Korea, shifting frozen bodies in the midst of a famine.
A stripped down, brutalist prose creates an eerie, nightmarish impression on the reader to capture the desperate plight of statelessness, with nowhere to turn.
Increasingly feverish pace with no escape, from the military dictatorship to a harsh mega-city to mad scientists carrying out medical experiments to merciless border guards and harsh prison camps.
Why you should read it: It is a raw, unforgiving book full of faceless brutality that eventually dehumanises the protagonist himself, who has to take increasingly violent measures to stay alive.
Icy cold. Stomach cramps.
Scarred lips. Teeth.
The ultra-securitised world of surveillance, violence, cannibalism and corruption, a world stripped of human rights, compassion or justice, progressively corrupts everyone it touches.
Read it if you liked: 1984, The Road.
The best book from the Czech Republic? Though overshadowed globally by Franz Kafka, Jaroslav Hašek and Milan Kundera, there is a hugely rich body of Czech literature. For the Habsburg era, try Prague Tales by Jan Neruda from the excellent Central European Classics series from the Central European University. This collection of short stories offers intimate, wry sketches of daily life in a Habsburg city foreshadowing Kafka. The Habsburg Empire’s polyglot politics do simmer menacingly below the surface of these stories. The tension between the (minority) language of administration, German, and the language of daily life, Czech, is dealt with through everyday scenes office politics.
The standout novel from communist times is My Golden Trades by Ivan Klima, with its series of slightly overlapping stories about people trying to maintain a private, limited existence under a smothering surveillance state.
Rating: ** Some misgogyny loses it one star