cover image Talks with T. G. Masaryk

Talks with T. G. Masaryk

Karel Capek, T. G. Masaryk. Catbird Press, $15.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-945774-26-6

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was already a grand old man in his 70s when the 32-year-old Capek began interviewing him in 1922. The decade before, Masaryk had crisscrossed Europe and the Atlantic whipping up support from foreign governments and expatriate Czechs and Slovaks for a united, independent country. In 1917, he traveled to a dangerously unstable Russia to create a Czechoslovak army from POWs in Russian camps. A year later, with the Dual Monarchy crumbling, the Czechoslovak republic was created with Masaryk as its president. Recalled in conversations with Capek (who would earn fame for his novel War with Newts among other writings), Masaryk's understated accounting of his WWI activities requires some previous knowledge of events. In some ways it is overshadowed by earlier recollections tracing the intellectual underpinnings of revolution. With political activity forbidden, early Czechoslovak nationalism took the form of cultural and academic pursuits aimed at differentiating their culture from the dominant German one. Masaryk's particular interests included the 15th-century reformist Czech Jan Hus and the ``Manuscripts Controversy'' over Ossianic forgeries that their supporters protected as necessary proof of an ancient Czech heritage. Masaryk's explanation of his position gives a sense of his typically upright and commonsensical approach: ``I considered the Manuscripts issue to be first and foremost a moral issue: if they were forgeries we had to confess it to the world; our pride, our culture could not be based on a lie.'' (Sept.)