Vol. XXIX , #3 Dalkey Archive Annual 3
With Michal Ajvaz, Heimrad Bäcker, Jon Fosse, Jacques Jouet, Stig Sæterbakken, Lars Svendsen, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Dumitru Tsepeneag
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Of Kids & Parents, by Emil Hakl
Reviewed by Michael Pinker
Trans. Marek Tomin. Twisted Spoon Press, 2008. 154 pp. Paper: $14.50.
Honza Benes, 42, and his father, Ivan, 71, stroll aimlessly around greater Prague, now and then dropping into a pub, during a long day spent "going out for a beer." Neither is married, and though Ivan, now retired, sporadically refers to his having once been a research scientist, calling out the Latin names of flora and fauna they encounter, we never learn where Honza works. Their highly entertaining extended conversation, scrounging up anecdotes and memories of relatives, friends, and acquaintances, especially women (plenty of them); episodes from their shared past; and jokes (Ivan's—as he notes, his son doesn’t tell jokes), punctuated every so often by Honza’s childhood recollections and occasional reprimands and threats from his inner “demon,” blends an intimate portrait of the state of the personal relationship of father and son with a ribald slice of contemporary Czech life. What is the state of the Czech Republic from the perspective of these two sharp if not especially politically oriented citizens? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, its morality resembles that of the West, while its culture—despite its older roots and recent communist history—looks westward, too, so that in many respects, while distinctly Slavic, our two friends might well be sauntering about any Continental metropolis. When not archly musing on questions of life and death, the pair’s most pressing concerns are those grievances, frustrations, and frictions that have led to their being less than completely comfortable with themselves and each other. Still, their peripatetic day remains highly amusing, for old Dad is quite a character, while his son, dour and melancholic by comparison, rouses himself by and by from his procrustean bed of self-tormenting freedom to realize that he loves the old man, despite the differences time and temperament have wrought on their mutual regard.