cover image What Ownership's All about

What Ownership's All about

Karel Polacek. Catbird Press, $21.95 (238pp) ISBN 978-0-945774-19-8

Exploring the thin line between legitimate authority and barbarism, this carefully translated 1928 novel hauntingly foreshadows the rise of fascism, which claimed the life of its Czech-Jewish author in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944. In a new lower-middle-class suburb of Prague, police sergeant Jan Faktor scrapes together enough money to build a rental apartment building. At first generous towards his tenants--a timid government clerk, a desperately poor, one-legged newspaper dealer, a schoolteacher and their respective families--Faktor soon begins to terrorize them, forbidding such ordinary activities as using the courtyard or entertaining friends and persuading the newspaper dealer's wife to spy on the others in exchange for keeping her apartment. With a sharp ear for dialogue and some sympathy for the social pretensions of the Czech petit bourgeoisie, Polacek handles this nightmarish persecution humorously, resolving it with an upbeat ending that has all the earmarks of a fairy tale. Part of Catbird's Garrigue series, which introduces little-known Czech authors to the American public, this work provides a link for readers between Polacek's generation of Czech humorists and those writing today, such as Bohumil Hrabal. ( Sept. )