Obooki’s Eastern European Project

I thought maybe for the second half of the year, after I’ve stopped reading my TBR pile, I’d return to another project I had in mind towards the end of last year but never put forward (I did at least stack all the books in a pile on my shelf), which was an Eastern European project. My nouveau roman project, after all, seems to have gone quite well so far, so maybe I will get somewhere with this one too, for it seems to me Eastern European literature is probably the most overlooked literature, with the highest percentage of masterpieces, of any area in the known world. (Or something of the sort). This project, like all good projects, has a few arbitrary rules, and Eastern Europe I am going to define thus:

  • Eastern Europe comprises all the countries that were part of the communist bloc, with the exception of Russia and its associated environs
  • or, Eastern Europe comprises all the countries which were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • or, Eastern Europe comprises the following languages: Czech, Serbo-Croat, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish

Yes, I think the last definition will do. I am not therefore including anything written in either Russian or German, on the supposition that those languages are already too dominant in our Western European c20th literary discourse. For as we all know, if Franz Kafka had written in Czech, he’d have remained lost in obscurity; while if Karel Čapek had written in German, he’d have been the greatest writer of the c20th. So here’s my list of books:

  • Bosnian Chronicle, by Ivo Andrić (Serbo-Croat)
  • The Manuscript from at Saragossa, by Jan Potocki (Polish)
  • Celestial Harmonies, by Péter Esterházy (Hungarian)
  • Mr Theodore Mundstock, by Ladislav Fuks (Czech)
  • The Sorrowful Eyes of Hannah Karajich, by Ivan Olbracht (Czech)
  • The Fictions of Bruno Schulz, by Bruno Schulz (Polish)
  • One of Garden, Ashes or The Hourglass, by Danilo Kiš (Serbo-Croat)
  • Fathers and Forefathers, by Slobodan Selenić (Serbo-Croat)
  • Cobblestone, by Peter Langyel (Hungarian)
  • The Door, by Magda Szabo (Hungarian)
  • Ferdydurke, by Witold Gombrowicz (Polish)
  • Polish Writing Today, by Various (Polish)
  • The Kiss and Other Stories, by Various (Hungarian)
  • Imperium, by Ryszard Kapuściński (Polish)
  • A Concise History of Poland, by Lukowski and Zawadski (English)
  • One or more of An Ordinary Man, Hordubal or Meteor, by Karel Čapek
  • Catapult, by Vladimír Parál (Czech)
  • The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, by Bohumil Hrabal (Czech)
  • Life with a Star, by Jiří Weil (Czech)
  • One or more of Sunflower, The Crimson Coach and The Adventures of Sindbad, by Gyula Krúdy (Hungarian)
  • Relations, by Zsigmond Móricz (Hungarian)
  • The Case Worker, by György Konrád (Hungarian)
  • The Faithful River, by Stefan Żeromski (Polish)
  • The White King, by György Dragomán (Hungarian)
  • Dark Angel, by György Moldova (Hungarian)
  • Prague Tales, by Jan Neruda (Czech)
  • 9, by Andrzej Stasiuk (Polish)
  • The Anthropus-Spectre-Beast, by Tadeusz Konwicki (Polish)
  • Madame, by Antoni Libera (Polish)
  • Wondermaid, by Dezső Kosztolányi (Hungarian)
  • The Doll, by Bolesław Prus (Poland)
  • One of The Dark Diamonds and The Man With The Golden Touch, by Mór Jókai (Hungarian)

So, not much Bulgarian or Romanian writing then.

Some of these books may be read as part of my TBR challenge, otherwise between June and December.

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11 thoughts on “Obooki’s Eastern European Project

  1. Interesting list. That means I recognize–and would like to read–some of them and know nothing about many of them. I hope to at least get to the TBR victims Gombrowicz (and the Transylvanian Banffy and the Czech Hasek, whom I suppose you’ve already read) this year, but you know how that goes…

  2. I like this list…thanks for taking the time to post it.

    I checked out The Doll yesterday and hope to read it before I have to return it. The other book I checked out was another Polish novel–Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski. I look forward to your posts on the listed books since they right up my alley on recent reads and my TBR list, too.

  3. I had a similar project in mind. Interesting list. I just reviewed Ivan Klíma, guess not one you like? I have a few of the Hungarian books here. In my post I asked for Czech recommendations but there were none besides Hrabal and Kundera. I don’t exactly like Kundera.

  4. I’ve read Hasek (who is marvellous) but not Banffy. I did think about Banffy, and look for cheap books by him – but there were none. I know my library has the trilogy however, so I could still get it out (but I’m hesistant getting books out of the library when I’ve still got so much else to read).

    I did read your Klíma review, and yes, I suppose I’m not the greatest fan of his and thought it better perhaps not to mention it. Hrabal is by far my favourite writer from that Prague-Spring generation (although I’m looking forward in particular to Parál), I don’t much like Skvorecky or Kundera (I think I gave the last Kundera a 1-rating for the last novel I read, and that’s probably it for him as far as I’m concerned – The Joke is a good novel, though.

    The two great pre-WWII Czech writers are Hašek and Čapek – both enormously recommended (I imagine Čapek is easier to find in German). Between 1945-1968, there are Fuks and Weil (on my list, though, not having read them, I can’t vouch for them) and no doubt some others (Vancura, I believe, to be held in high regard, and more or less unobtainable in English).

    One of the books I got this week, by Antoni Libera, looks particularly impressive from the few paragraphs I read. I’d not heard of him before this week. Unlike many of the listed writers, he’s still alive.

  5. Hi Dwight, and welcome.

    The Doll I’ve had for too many years without reading. It must have one of the dullest opening lines in all of literature – but it’s meant to be the great c19th Polish novel.

    I hadn’t heard of Wiesław Myśliwski, so ordered one of his books.

  6. I love Dezső Kosztolányi. Skylark was marvellous and The Golden Kite too. I’ve never heard of Wondermaid, though.

    I read Antal Szerb recently (The Pendragon Legend), it’s great.

  7. No, I’d never heard of Wondermaid till I found it one day in a bookshop. It’s an old edition, from the 60s. I really enjoyed Skylark too, but I’ve never read The Golden Kite.

    I’d forgotten Antal Szerb and I have The Pendragon Legend unread somewhere. I read a book by him last year, something about Italy – I forget the name.

    This was the disturbing thing about this list: I compiled it without really delving into the recesses of my book collection. It’s occurred to me since I haven’t put down any Stanislaw Lem (I must have 5 or 6 to read). I’m sure there are others.

  8. Wouldn’t you know it…checked the mail today after posting and received I Burn Paris by Bruno Jasienski.

  9. I don’t think I’ve heard of most of those names. Good luck with your project and have fun!

  10. The Szerb you have in mind is Journey By Moonlight; a lovely book.

    There does seem to be one Vancura book available in English. According to a list I’ve seen, there are also 3 German translations, 4 French and 5 Italian. Not that I’ve read any of these; I only looked it up after seeing a stunning film called Marketa Lazarova, which is based on a story by Vancura. The best Czech film ever made, according to Czech critics.

    Interesting list – a good mixture of familiar and unfamiliar names. I hope they don’t disappoint.

  11. D: Jasienski sounds intriguing, but I think I have to stop buying books now.

    M: Thanks Miguel. I’m sure I will have fun; I’ve rarely failed to be impressed by East European literature.

    CN: Yes, Journey by Moonlight – that’s it. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Marketa Lazarova, but maybe I need to see it again, because I don’t remember it. I watched quite a few Czech films at the same time, so it’s hard to tell.

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