Never before published in English, the stories in Mr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult were written mostly in the 1950s and present the Czech master Bohumil Hrabal at the height of his powers. The stories capture a time when Czech Stalinists were turning society upside down, inflicting their social and political experiments on mostly unwilling subjects. These stories are set variously in the gaslit streets of post-war Prague; on the raucous and dangerous factory floor of the famous Poldi steelworks where Hrabal himself once worked; in a cacophonous open-air dance hall where classical and popular music come to blows; at the basement studio where a crazed artist attempts to fashion a national icon; on the scaffolding around a decommissioned church. Hrabal captures men and women trapped in an eerily beautiful nightmare, longing for a world where “humor and metaphysical escape can reign supreme.”
Hrabal is a spider of a writer: subtle and sly, patient, with invisible designs. He never proclaims — he never needs to. He envelops.
—Parul Sehgal, New York Times Book Review
All seven tales thrum with Hrabal’s characteristic rambunctious energy and are tinged with flurries of comic absurdity and ghoulish mayhem.
—Malcolm Forbes, The National
An often powerful and occasionally unnerving collection of stories from a half-century ago […] the timelessness of the best of these stories attests to a human spirit undimmed by the darkest of circumstances.
Mr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult shows off a distinctly different Hrabal than the one English-language readers have grown accustomed to.
—Hal Hlavinka, The Quarterly Conversation
This strange, revealing collection is major document of class consciousness, protest, and the Eastern Bloc.
The essence of Hrabal’s fiction is to draw beauty from what isn’t, to find hope where we’re not likely to look … to show that we are all of us ‘magnificent.’
—Meghan Forbes, The Los Angeles Review of Books
One of the most authentic incarnations of magical Prague, an incredible union of earthy humor and baroque imagination.
Hrabal’s magical stories are comic and human–they are really desires embodied… . They inhabit a utopian province, the realm of laughter and tears.