Michal Vrba (b. 1976) comes from a small village in East Bohemia. He has been writing since his childhood, mostly short stories. The Slingshot (Argo, 2016) was the most accomplished Czech debut of the year, combining the compelling theme of the occupation, literary talent and an ability to narrate a gripping tale.
September 2019, 178 pages
Available material: English sample
A quiet spot in the forest, where cruel history sometimes passes.
Stories of little men in the maelstrom of great historical events, individual stories set against the backdrop of history’s turning points and societal transformations, from the Thirty Years’ War to the 1990s. History disrupts the protagonists’ lives in fundamental, sometimes fatal ways, whether they want it to – and act consciously – or are being dragged along by circumstance. They are all connected through a specific place in the countryside, a pond named “Jakub”, which directly or indirectly touches every one of them. Once it is the war with the Swedes and the children caught in it, then a small village farmer threatened by the Red Army, another time it is a politically prominent figure hunted down by revolutionary justice, and so on. When an individual’s very existence is at risk, the specific form and intentions of those who set the wheels of history in motion are not important.
“He listened to the sounds outside. He hadn’t gotten used to all those new murmurs, the wind searching the ruin for flappy unstuck bits and making them speak, he wasn’t accustomed to the splashes of water hitting the collapsed torso of the mill wheel. Even the stream itself had a different speed now, as it was running into new obstacles, its sound had changed, too. He wasn’t used to the stifling smells filling his nose – the sharp reek of the burnt-out area, the stench of mud and dead, rotting fish over there by the wrecked sluice gate, at the deepest spot of the drained pond.”