cover image Mr. Kafka: And Other Tales from the Time of the Cult

Mr. Kafka: And Other Tales from the Time of the Cult

Bohumil Hrabal, trans. from the Czech by Paul Wilson. New Directions, $14.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2480-2

Hrabal’s (The Little Town Where Time Stood Still) books are rightly considered Czech classics, but the seven stories in this volume are manifestly products of Stalinism, the cult of the subtitle, and an era when even an absurdist writer like Franz Kafka could pass for social realism. This is more or less the lesson of the frenetic title story, which takes us through the streets of a changed Prague. Next comes the vivid, complex proletariat melodrama “Strange People,” which covers a factory strike from the workers’ point of view and is surely one of the best fictional treatments of Marxist themes. It’s not hard to see where Hrabal is coming from in stories such as “The Angel,” which takes place at a women’s prison, or “Betrayal of Mirrors,” where a sculptor works passionately on a nationalist icon only to be caught up in the public battle over its commission. Questions of labor and mankind’s soul under Communism abound in the whimsical “The Broken Drum,” about an usher forced to choose sides in a battle between classical symphony and popular music, and the more scathing “Ingots,” where a persecuted philosopher characterizes humanity as “nothing but rat finks, maniacs, bottom-feeders, big mouths with raging paranoia.” Finally, there’s “Beautiful Poldi,” a nightmarish portrait of the famous steelworks, with its volunteer workers. This strange, revealing collection is major document of class consciousness, protest, and the Eastern Bloc. [em](Oct.) [/em]