The art is every nation´s display window and the literature is the queen of all arts. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president, once said: „For seventy years now I’ve been reading novels daily.“ For Masaryk, there was no better way how to know the spirit of different nations than reading novels by their authors. If you want to understand the Russian spirit better, read Tolstoy´s War and Peace and if you are interested in France, you cannot miss Victor Hugo. In the following list, you will find ten essential pieces of Czech literature. If you are serious about your interest in the Czech culture, read them.
TOP 1O Czech Books List
- The Good Soldier Švejk (Jaroslav Hašek) – Simply the most famous Czech book, translated into more than 50 languages. It is absolute basics and if there is one book you cannot miss at any case, it is this one. Jaroslav Hašek used memories of his service during the WWI to write this satirical, anti-war masterpiece. Joseph Heller once said that without reading Švejk, he would not be able to write his Catch XXII.
2. The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka) – The Metamorphosis, along with The Trial, is one of the most important short stories in the history of literature. The absurd story about the transformation of traveling salesman into the monstrous vermin is, in fact, more about the reaction of his family, about their falsity and unwillingness to help in this extreme situation.
3. All the Beauty in the World (Jaroslav Seifert) – Jaroslav Seifert is still the only Czech laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1984). Although the Seifert was a poet, All the Beaty in the World is in fact prose in which he poetically remembers his life. This is the true masterpiece of the memoir literature.
4. The Power of the Powerless – This political essay by Václav Havel, dissident and the first president of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution, had the great importance in defining the negative characteristics of the Communist regime which are not compatible with the society based on freedom and democracy. The truth is, that it is still very actual today.
5. R.U.R. (Karel Čapek) – Čapek´s novel R.U.R. or Rossum’s Universal Robots, not only that introduced the word „robot“ to the world, it is also one of the most influential novels with translations to more than thirty languages. The novel about the influence of the technology is dark, but it is sure that there is still some hope.
6. Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Bohumil Hrabal) – Although there are many of Hrabal´s books which deserve the position in this list (Snowdrop Festival, Cutting It Short or I Served the King of England to name just a few), whole novel Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age are written in just one sentence and is so unique that it was chosen to represent the work of one of the most famous Czech writers of the 20th century.
7. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) – Milan Kundera became a French citizen to avoid persecution by the Communist regime in his home country but is still considered to be one of the greatest Czech authors. The novel about things so fundamental like life or love on the background of 1968 invasion of the Soviet-led forces into Czechoslovakia. Another world-famous masterpiece.
8. A Prayer For Katerina Horowitzova (Arnošt Lustig) – Arnošt Lustig, the Holocaust survivor, wrote this deep and touching book based on his personal experience with clear and crystal evil. This should not be missed by anyone interested in the Czech experience with Holocaust and the Second World War.
9. Talks With T.G.Masaryk (T.G.Masaryk / Karel Čapek) – Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was not only the university professor, member if Austrian parliament or the founder and the first president of Czechoslovakia but also one of the greatest European philosophers and humanists of the 19th and 20th centuries. His thoughts were given the literature form by Karel Čapek and the result is the book which won´t let anyone to forget it easily.
10. The Grandma (Božena Němcová) The author tells the idealized story of her childhood in this novel. The romantic description of the life on the Czech countryside in the 19th century still defines the image of it within the Czech society. With more than 300 editions, The Grandma is simply the most read piece of the Czech literature within Czechs.