Tsum | Review: Joseph Banek – Love in the Time of Global Climate Change

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Fill yourself endlessly and joyfully with chocolate sticks

Josef Banek is a relatively unknown Czech writer, who was born in Czechoslovakia (1966) and studied (Molecular Biology), but has spent nine years abroad (Australia and Norway) and has traveled the world to various scientific conferences, travelling. So displacement in a bleak world are the key words of his debut (autobiographical) novel, which won his country’s top literary prize, Magnesia Litera, in 2018.

Tomasz, whose name the reader only learns on page 68, is the alter ego of the writer. As a genetic biologist, he visited India for a scientific conference. In Bangalore, he meets a beautiful Indian who portrays him as she stands out in her western attire against the brightly colored sarees of other Indian girls. She asks him to delete the photo. He meets her again at the conference. She also seems to have traveled the world. They fall in love and tell each other their life story in bed. He mainly talks about his adventures in Iceland, where he was commuting practically without money and equipment. He slept in the open air, cold and hungry amid sulfur clouds, volcanoes and lava fields. In turn, she tells him about her grandfather who tried to build an adventurous life in South Australia. However, after that strange night in bed, Tomash loses her sight and asks the reader if she (the nameless person!) really exists or if she hasn’t been physically erased from him, just like in the picture.

So much for the story. Life in southern India with its heat, smog, drought, dirt and chaos is in stark contrast to the hardships of Iceland. His stay in India is not just a climate shock but also a racial shock for him. He finds that he still carries with him, to some extent, the stereotypes and prejudices about the non-white human being instilled in him during his childhood in Czechoslovakia, although he has traveled well: they are all dark-skinned in India. , pearly white teeth, a grin, obliging, etc., but does this kindness and righteousness really mean, he wonders.

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The way Punk portrays his novel is interesting. The narrator describes his adventures in India in an unusual way. This allows him to distance himself from himself: on the one hand he generalizes what has been said, and on the other hand he distances himself from his moral values. That your form sounds like this: “They smile at you widely” followed by “And you are not very happy” (p. 10), “You ask” followed by “You say” (p. 175) At the same time, the form of you, most common in lyric poetry , put the story in an emotional jacket: a kind of stream of consciousness in which sentences flow into each other, key words appear, sentences are temporarily interrupted by interruptions (‘damn’, ‘no way’, ‘do you understand’, etc.), and signs Exclamation in the middle of the sentence, etc. Laughing widely and politely’, p. 166). Unusually, Pánek also works with abbreviations in text and numbers rather than displaying them in words or asterisks instead of words: 2nd, ***** Hotel, 200 Rps/day, <1 min. , 4 x 4 (= a car with four wheel drive). And this whole flow is given a circular structure: the story ends where it began.

The blurb refers to the prose of Bohumil Hrabal, who also likes to incorporate serial works into his prose (like those endless pubs). Compare this to the infinity and joy of stuffing himself with chocolate sticks by hungry Tomáš in Pánek. But another famous Czech writer can also be mentioned: Jaroslav Hasek, especially when his hero, the good soldier Švik, makes an endless circular tour around the small town of Potem in southern Bohemia, when he loses contact with his battalion. Similarities to Tomasz’s trip to hike around Iceland itself are readily apparent, although Švejk does not suffer under the given circumstances, but smokes his pipe and happily drinks beer.
Finally, an honorable mention to the (Flemish) translator who did an excellent job translating this challenging experimental text, with the support of guidance from ELV (Experience Center for Literary Translation).

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Joseph Banek: Love in times of global climate change† Translated by Brecht Vergault from the Czech. Noblemann, Groningen. 180 pages.22.95€.

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