- Published on Amazon.com
Milos Urban is Czech novelist who is in the world and the Czech anthologies often called "black knight of Czech literature"; on the literary scene he entered back in 1988 and with his distinctive style immediately after the release of his debut novel Urban became the new writer of exceptional importance and influence on the entire Western Hemisphere. With Urban Czech "New Wave" got its leader and the literary scene another author who continued the tradition of high-quality Czech literature that does not stop impress literary theorists and audience.
This novel, on the literal level, brings the story of Prague and its inhabitants at the end of the nineteenth century - as reader will see – where space and historic moment in it are crucial, and fully determined by them, while the plotline itself is developing based on external circumstances of space on which it speaks. Without any pretensions to be mysterious or for novel to be turned into an allegorical work, Urban to reader, almost on a platter, presents all the key points, enabling us to notice the universality of themes to which author dedicated his pages.
We find Czech Republic at the time when it was still part of the dying of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the struggle for secession in full swing, and the population is naturally divided into those who stand beside the old government, and those who acquired the status of "enemies of the state". It is a start of a turbulent modern Czech history and questions of Czech independence, which will be resolved a century later. With numerous social and historical themes that were introduced immediately in the first chapter, the one that immediately especially prominent is the issue of language. Widespread forced introducing of German language into Slavic countries left its mark in the Czech Republic, and the passages in which the Urban refers to the loss of autonomy of the Czech language cannot fail to remind the historical examples that have been reported in all parts of Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, it is not the aim to highlight the (excessive) national pride, but primarily through historical events and language issues introduce existentialist thinking about freedom, independence and general human rights.
The main narrative voice is one of the main characters of Count Arco, a character who along with his family is the last gasp of European nobility which history once knew. Living solely from his inheritance, he spends every day in pure hedonism, constantly trying his stability to be disturbed by anything. Of course, neither the count will be able to escape to the constant social turmoil. How novel is narrated from the perspective of Arco, the authenticity of the language and style which Urban is using, among other things, is proof of his extraordinary literary skills. Very intelligently tailored character, Count Arco doesn’t hide his "liberal" way of life; a frequent visitor to the brothel, in a simultaneous "relationship" with several different women of different ages, gladly testing different drugs, regular consumer of Absinthe, attempting to heal the sick lungs with hydrochloric tablets sold by his Swiss Dr. Albert Hofmann or tablets with substances like heroin. The interesting thing is that later in the history Dr. Hofmann is mentioned in terms of creation LSD – which this doctor just like Count Arco considered "medicine for the soul".
Part of Prague, where Count Arco prefers spending his time is the area known as the Jewish quarter; due to the constant turmoil and social changes of the local authorities decided that its time is up and that it will have to be completely renovated, destroyed more accurately, in order to be arranged in accordance with the European tradition of planning and construction of modern sewage system. For one cause of disease and "sinful" life, the other perfectly tailored bohemian space, Jewish quarter will become the focal point of conflict in Prague that will involve all residents, from prostitutes to the secret police. Count Arco, although he tends to ignore reality, insists on buying a home, which is located right at the intersection of future water pipes in the area that will among the first to be razed to the ground. Intentionally or not, he will be embroiled in a world of which he kept running away and so he will open up a Pandora's Box of social problems and power relations that are no different from todays.
The struggle between the old and the new world, the bottom and top of the social ladder, tradition and modernity, justice and bribery, and the authenticity and progress are the basic points on which Urban is building his work. The atmosphere which fills it unquestionably is dark, mystical, almost grotesque and often fantastic - exactly in line with the time he talks about. Also, what is fascinating is issue of rising anti-Semitism, the fight for city, xenophobia and "new age" that will be followed by nearing globalization. It is easy to notice the similarity in patterns of human behavior that are repeated throughout history and exactly on them Urban warns us. Starting with the issue of state autonomy, official language, city organization, questions to whom city belongs to the thinking who determines the rules when it comes to human relationships, Milos Urban with his novel speaks about the European past and the future, their incredible similarities and raises the question of whether social movements will be ever freed from the bondage of their historical specificity.