Theme: Eastern Europe
“Nothing original, in short they live off the human flesh thrown into the water after a burial ceremony. They grab the bodies downstream and eat the flesh. It’s already been roasted but mostly it’s also gone rancid and rotten and they love that because the do it for the religious reasons, and when you’ve got religious reasons then no filth is filthy enough.”
This is just one of the startling and thought-provoking narrative bombs you’ll mine in the conversation between father and son in Emil Hakl’s brilliant novel, Of Kids and Parents. Set in Prague while a father and son, seventy-one years old and forty-two years old respectively, perambulate through the city with frequent stops in bars and pubs to quench their thirst. Although it’s been heralded for its Joycean stream-of-consciousness style, it reads more like exactly what it is–a long conversation between two men with a history together enlaced with their individual histories. There is the comic, the dramatic and the poignant. There is the inner-dialogue of the son who has felt betrayed by his father’s neglect and self-involvement. We know early on that the father and son both recognize that the dad’s an alcoholic. The son feels that the only way to relate and endure time with his father is to join in his two favorite things, drinking and walking. The son narrates with a resigned, melancholic style imbued with a wry sense of humor which we see when his father, a full-time encyclopedic pedant, asks him if he recognizes the chirp of a particular bird:
“No, I dont’,” I said vacantly. Right then I was contemplating the huge harpoon in Zeman’s film version of Baron Munchausen, the one the size of a cargo plane, which the castaways in the belly of the whale don’t notice until it drives through the monster’s ribs right next to them. I was thinking that despite being simplistic it’s an exact representation of the moment I’ve been waiting for all my life. The moment when the cataract of routine is ripped and something, something, finally happens. I’ll be waiting forever, of course. Everyone will. Because everything that does actually happen, immediately takes on the traits of the ordinary. And the brain, that contented brute? That mushy landlord? That aesthete? That Oscar Wilde in my head? It immediately refuses to concern itself with anything new and unknown. Life is driving away under our arses like a bus driven by a stroke-victim, yet the brain is only capable of adding: Oh dear! Well, I never! How curious!
The tolerance of the son towards his father overwhelms the reader at times. For those who recognize the path of least resistance, they surely will relate to the feeling that ‘least resistance’ does not mean ‘easy’. The father is off in his own world and only intermittently can the son truly engage in an exchange, but mostly it’s playing along with his father’s tangents and memories. But what is so interesting about his memories is that they provide a framework for the reader as if she were walking through the history of Prague and Eastern Europe. From Communism to Nazi’s to the warring Yugoslavia, we are given a quick tour of fighting aircrafts and the destruction of cities and people.
Not surprisingly, this novel has been made into a movie in Czechoslovakia. I await its arrival on netflix with great anticipation. Emil Hakl was co-writer of the screenplay which probably made the already dialogue driven novel easier to adapt to screen with the author being involved. Also, I found a gem of an interview with Emil Hakl in The Prague Post, an Czech paper for English readers.
This novel could be written about any father-son relationship, but it’s not. It’s a substantial contribution to the Czech perspective of a literary psychogeography and gives a distinctive taste of the universality of the difficulty of relationships between fathers and sons prepared in a way that only a Czech could do.
Of Kids and Parents
By Emil Hakl
Translated by Marek Tomin
Awards: Magnesia Litera Book of the Year prize in 2003, Shortlisted for the 2009
Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize
Twisted Spoon Press