Bookish; Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau; and an Italian translation

At the website Bookish, the novelist Charles Finch has listed Necessary Errors in a round-up of “Great Expatriate Stories.”

On the brand-new literary blog Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau, there’s an in-depth review of the novel that calls it “delicate and slippery.”

I’m also happy to announce that 66th and 2nd will be publishing an Italian translation of the novel, currently scheduled for 2015.

Václav Havel’s legacy

“Havel’s Specter,” my essay on Václav Havel’s philosophy as manifested in his essays, his plays, and his political career, is published in the 9 April 2012 issue of The Nation.

If anyone wants to know what a Czech shopkeeper’s display window under Communism actually looked like, click on the gallery titled “Prague Shop Windows 1976–96” on the photographer Iren Stehli’s website.

For this essay, I consulted Havel’s plays and essays in English, as well as, in some cases, in Czech as published in his collected works, the first seven volumes of which were published by Torst in 1999. For biographical details, I relied on Havel’s autobiographical books, Disturbing the Peace and To the Castle and Back; Eda Kriseová’s campaign biography of Havel (1991; translated in 1993 by me in an earlier life; don’t blame me for all the typos! its original publisher went out of business before the book went to press and it was never proofread); John Keane’s problematic, tonally off-kilter 1999 biography; and Carol Rocamora’s Acts of Courage, which focuses primarily on Havel’s career as a dramatist. I also consulted the New York Times obituary and the chronologies at the back of Jan Vladislav’s anthology Living in Truth and on the website of the Václav Havel Library. Also useful were Hugh Agnew’s The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and Aviezer Tucker’s The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patočka to Havel. Paul Wilson commented on Havel’s word samopohyb in “Notes from the Underground,” a 2006 article in Columbia magazine. Details of Václav Klaus’s political philosophy are taken in part from his book Renaissance. Klaus claimed that the role of dissidents had been exaggerated in a 15 November 2003 column in Mladá fronta dnes and repeated the claim in a 16 November 2004 interview with Hospodářské noviny as well as in remarks delivered in English in London in 2009. Wilson’s observations about Klaus’s eulogy were published in the New York Review of Books.

Just two days ago, I received in the mail a copy of my friend Jonathan Bolton’s new book, Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism, which I’m eagerly reading and highly recommend! I strongly suspect it will be the definitive account in English of Havel’s ideas about dissidence and the intellectual milieu in which they arose.

“Wallenstein Garden,” by Jaroslav Seifert

I've been translating a few things from Czech lately, when I should have been doing something else. This poem is about a garden in Prague full of neoclassical statuary.

Wallenstein Garden
by Jaroslav Seifert

When violets rain down
into the strings of the old lyre,
held under one arm
as if it were a distorted discus

by the pretty young goddess
—there was a time when
a burbling fountain used to dress her
in his glittering silver—

when the wind beats
moldering leaves up against a staircase
and eats from an empty fountain
as from a bowl,

a nude crouches silently
under the cold ivy
and we tell each other
gentle foolishnesses again.

Next to the old musket,
there, in a corner gray with mildew,
I wiped the kisses off
the lips of your damp roses

much the way time, which has played quietly
here in the harps of the old trees,
long ago wiped the blood away
from the rusty weapons.

Licenses taken: I haven't tried to reproduce the rhyme or the rhythm of the original. In Czech, the goddess is a "little young goddess," not quite colloquial in English; I changed "little" to "pretty" in an attempt to capture the affection implied in Czech by the dimininutive. There's no second em dash in the original, but I think the conventions of English punctuation require one.