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A History of Light (Dějiny světla) by Jan Němec at ELN Translation Pitch

4 JUNE 2015, 7 PM, FREE WORD CENTRE, LONDON. Eight enthralling books by contemporary European writers which have not yet been translated into English will be pitched live to an audience and expert jury consisting of Max Porter (Granta Books), Kerry Glencorse (Susanna Lea Associates) and Stefan Tobler (And Other Stories Publishing). With just three minutes per pitch, and complemented by extracts read by actors, this whirlwind journey of discovery will uncover brilliant new European literary gems.

4 June 2015, 7 pm
Free Word Centre, 6 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA

Admission: £5 (£3 concessions)
Booking: www.freewordcentre.com, 020 7324 2570
Rezervace online

Featuring Jan Nemec's A History of Light (Czech Republic) by Melvyn Clarke, Vonne von der Meer´s Take 7 (Netherlands) by Laura Vroomen, Pierre Autin-Grenier´s That´s Just How (France) by Andrea Reece, Jan Van Loy´s Scraps (Flanders) by Anna Asbury, Vladimir Zarev´s Ruin (Bulgaria) by Angela Rodel, Krisztina Tóth´s Pixel (Hungary) by Owen Good, Verena Rossbacher´s Small Talk and Slaughter (Germany) by Anne Posten and Jesper Wung-Sung´s Proper Fractions (Denmark) by Lindy Falk van Rooyen. Hosted by Chris Gribble (Writers Centre Norwich).

The aim of The ELN Translation Pitch is to support and promote the work of EU writers who have not yet had a complete work published in English, whilst offering a public platform to emerging translators. The winning translator will be offered support and promotion from Free Word and English PEN, including a £250 PEN Samples grant and an interview published online.

Born in 1956, Melvyn Clarke is a graduate of the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, where he studied Czech and Slovak language and literature for three years under David Short, Robert Pynsent and Karel Brušák, as well as Central European history. He also went to Lancaster University, where he studied Czech language, history and literature with Dana Kňourková, Igor Hájek and Sir Cecil Parrott. Since moving to Prague in 1990 he has been translating a broad range of Czech and Slovak texts, including fiction, legal, commercial, marketing, journalistic, advertising and tourist literature.
His  work is reviewed by his Czech partner, Hana Jirkalová, with whom he translated a children’s non-fiction work  Who Invented, Discovered, Made the First... by Kenneth Ireland. Recent published translations into English have included:  On Description, ed. Alice Jedličková, on narratology, Christmas in Bohemia by Kamila Skopová, and a children’s story The House Beyond the Mist by Ester Stará, plus a novel B. Proudew by Irena Dousková and numerous literary extracts for the Czech Literature Portal, where he has worked as English editor and translator. He has run and moderated Czechlist, a very active online translators’ discussion forum since 1999.


This novel about the famous Czech photographer František Drtikol charms us with its poetic diction and archaic language. In a sense this biographical novel really is a ‘history’ of light, which was lacking in the silver mines of his native Příbram, but later illuminates the ornamental character of the incredibly interesting and turbulent ‘Secession’ period. In the end this light is at the heart of the spiritual disciplines practised by Drtikol. Jan Němec has an ability to incorporate all this in a sophisticated yet playful manner. The novel never loses its pace and is very hard to put down even after 400 pages. The author’s remarkable linguistic and stylistic skills come across very clearly, as the story is tantalizingly told in the second person for unique reasons that only become tauntingly evident in the wry twist towards the end. This works extremely well in English.
This is a biographical novel which combines a presentation of a remarkable personality with a portrayal of his life as a series of extraordinary events always leading towards higher perception. Drtikol is an outstanding character who is going to fascinate the English-speaking world.

A History of Light - short excerpt in English:


Born in 1981, he is a poet and prose writer who has authored three books: a selection of poems První život/First Life, a collection of short stories Hra pro čtyři ruce/Game for Four Hands (nominated for the Jiří Orten Prize) and now Dějiny světla/A History of Light (Czech Book Award 2014 and the European Union Prize for Literature 2014, shortlisted for the Magnesia Litera in the Prose category 2014 and the Josef Škvorecký Prize 2014). He graduated in Religious Studies and Sociology from Masaryk University in Brno and also studied theatrical dramaturgy at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts. He works as an editor at Host Publishers, as well as contributing to the Respekt weekly  and working as a dramaturgist for the ČT Art TV channel.

Melvyn Clarke Dějiny světla
(A History of Light)
Jan Němec


"I'm certain that Jan Němec's novel A History of Light is unrivalled in current Czech literature. And I'd even argue that it's a beacon which Czech literature has been lacking for a long time." Jiří Kratochvil, writer, ČT art

 "Mystery, success and loneliness - these are ingredients for a nutritious literary dish. The author Jan Němec chose photographer František Drtikol as the hero of his book A History of Light and wrote one of last year's best Czech novels."
"A great fate demands a great gesture - and Jan Němec's novel about František Drtikol was able to achieve this with the necessary breadth. He writes about the mining town Příbram as if he were holding a pneumatic drill, about the young photographer's juvenile loves as if he were in love for the first time, and about the nature of light, this substance which was so vital for the photographer, with the same wonder which Röntgen must have experienced when he discovered X-rays."
"The title itself reveals his ambition - if you're writing A History of Light, you have to expect reactions from readers and critics comparing the result with the magnitude of the chosen task. Němec succeeded, he's readable and profound, spiritual and social."
Aleš Palán
, Hospodářské noviny

"I read this novel as a manifestation of a genre which is very fertile in the world but which is more or less absent in Czech literature, a biographical novel, which combines presenting the facts and myths about the life of a personality with the attempt to portray the hero's life as a series of extraordinary and remarkable events, aiming at higher quality."
"The author demonstrates his ability to study sources thoroughly and also remarkable linguistic and stylistic skills. His audience are readers of 'true stories'."
"Němec is able to brilliantly satisfy the rules of this genre. And in this sense, reading A History of Light was also a literary experience for me."
Pavel Janoušek, Host (Literary Monthly)

Part of the European Literature Night VII, 13 May – 9 June 2015, www.europeanliteraturenight.co.uk
European Literature Night (ELN) is the annual literary showcase bringing the best of the continent’s authors to the UK. Now moving into its seventh year, the ELN 2015 is a series of events, including four events at the British Library and the ELN Translation Pitch at the Free Word Centre.

The ELN Translation Pitch is organized by the Czech Centre London in partnership with English PEN, Free Word, the Translators Association and the Emerging Translators Network and supported by the Ballassi Institute, Hungarian Cultural Centre, Bulgarian Cultural Institute, Czech Centre, Embassy of Denmark, Danish Arts Foundation, Flanders House, Institut francais, Goethe Institute, Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands.


Translation Association
Emerging Translators Network