It’s a banal thing to say, but Twisted Spoon Press is one of the most under-appreciated small publishers. For years—sixteen according to its website—TSP has been producing beautiful editions of books by Central and Eastern European authors. Some of the names on their list are “names”—Bohumil Hrabal, Ladislav Klima, Peter Nadas, and Franz Kafka—but most are unknown to English readers. (See Hermann Ungar, whose The Maimed is a marvelous, dark novel that should be more widely read.)

Emil Hakl is a perfect example of what TSP does best. A relatively young Czech author (b. 1958), Hakl is the author of two short story collections, three novels, and a volume of poetry. He’s also the co-founder of the Moderni analfabet [Modern Illiterates] writer’s group, and Of Kids & Parents is his first work to be translated into English.

It’s not surprising that this particular title is the first of Hakl’s to be translated. It won the Magnesia Litera Book of the Year prize in 2003 and was made into a feature film. Which also isn’t surprising given the cinematic—and traditional independent film—qualities of the novel.

Written almost entirely in dialogue, the novel takes place over one night as a 42-year-old man and his 71-year-old father go from bar to bar drinking, talking about airplanes, about women, about everything. The book is narrated by the son, although expository sections are few and far between.

There’s a scene towards the end that pretty much embodies the core drifting nature of the book. Honza Benes (the son) accidentally text messages a wrong number, but gets a pleasant, flirtatious response from a woman on the other end. After a series of texts, they decide to meet until Honza makes an inappropriate joke:

And out of sheer joy it was moving on somewhere, wherever that might have been, I sent her a joke: AT BREAK OF DAWN LITTLE MARIENKA WALKS INTO KITCHEN AND SEES NAKED MAN STANDING BY FRIDGE. MORNING, R U OUR NEW BABYSITTER? NO, SAYS GUY, IM YOUR NEW MOTHERFUCKER!

Things cool down, but they eventually meet, she turns out to be a pleasant woman in a strained marriage, they drink some wine, go their separate ways. After telling the story, Honza’s dad chimes in:

“It’s a bit sad in terms of reality, but it would make a fine short story.”

“Except there’s no climax whatsoever.”

“As with everything that actually happens! You only get a climax in films and stupid books . . . Reality only ends in tears, for goodness’ sake!”

“You’re just a terrible pessimist, that’s all,” I said and went to take a leak.

This is a novel without a climax, or, going a step further, a conversation without a plot. Which isn’t meant to be disparaging—it is a very well conceived novel that’s very comfortable. It’s easy to slide into the repartee between the father and son, and to enjoy their interactions as the move from bar to bar.

Occasionally though, the dialogue and voice seem a bit off. I was surprised to find out, maybe a third of the way through the book, that the son was 42 years old. His speech patterns and choice of words made me think that he was probably in his late-twenties, and his father in his mid-fifties. And at a few crucial points (like when Honza admits to fathering a kid twenty years ago), some of the responses are a bit too distant and disinterested to fit with the rest of the book.

None of these quibbles are damning though. Of Kids & Parents is a good, quick read, and Hakl is obviously a talented writer. I’m looking forward to checking out more of his work.


Comments are disabled for this article.

....

Of Kids & Parents
By Emil Hakl
Translated by Marek Tomin
Reviewed by Chad W. Post
154 pages, Paperback
ISBN: 978-80-86264-30-1
$14.50
Autobiography of a Corpse
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Reviewed by Simon Collinson

One of the greatest services—or disservices, depending on your viewpoint—Bertrand Russell ever performed for popular philosophy was humanizing its biggest thinkers in his History. No longer were they Platonic ideals, the clean-shaven exemplars of the kind of homely truisms that. . .

Read More >

A Musical Hell
A Musical Hell by Alejandra Pizarnik
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The best way to review Alejandra Pizarnik’s slim collection, A Musical Hell, published by New Directions as part of their Poetry Pamphlet series, is to begin by stating that it is poetry with a capital P: serious, dense, and, some. . .

Read More >

Astragal
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .

Read More >

Live Bait
Live Bait by Fabio Genovesi
Reviewed by Megan Berkobien

When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .

Read More >

The Skin
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte
Reviewed by Peter Biello

“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .

Read More >

Love Sonnets & Elegies
Love Sonnets & Elegies by Louise Labé
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .

Read More >

Conversations
Conversations by César Aira
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .

Read More >