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14 Apr 2016 19:00

Josef Jedlička: Midway Upon the Journey of Our Life

Official launch of the first English-language translation of Midway Upon the Journey of Our Life, a darkly comic and long-banned novel from one of Czech literature’s voices rediscovered after the fall of Communism, Josef Jedlička. Written between 1954 and 1957 and treating events from the Stalinist era of Czechoslovakia’s postwar Communist regime, Midway Upon the Journey of Our Life flew in the face of the reigning aesthetic of socialist realism. Constructed from lyrical sketches of everyday life in industrial north Bohemia, and set against a backdrop of historical and cultural upheaval, Midway interweaves meditative and speculative reflections with fragmentary accounts of Jedlička’s own life and the lives of people around him—typically rendered as overheard conversations—as they go about the business of “building a new society.”

Due to its critical view of socialist society and the mythology that goes with it, Midway remained unpublished until 1966 amid the easing of cultural control, but an uncensored version of this anti-heroic novel did not appear in Czech until 1994.

The launch is scheduled for the London Book Fair, to be followed by a reading and panel discussion with the translator, Alex Zucker, at Waterstones Piccadilly on the 14th of April 2016 at 7pm.

The panel will include:
Alex Zucker, translator, several awards, incl. British PEN for best translation in 2013
Rajendra A. Chitnis, afterword and editorial superviser, Senior Lecturer in Czech, Slovak and Russian literature at University of Bristol
Owen Hatherley, publicist and author of bestselling Landscapes of Communism, Alan Lane 2015
Jana Nahodilova, Deputy Language Director, University of Bristol

Tickets: £5 tickets (redeemable against purchase of the book on the night) are available in store, by telephone 020 7851 2400 or by email piccadilly@waterstones.com


The book will be published by 
Karolinum as a part of their Modern Czech Classics series
Karolinum Press is a publishing department of Charles University in Prague

“Bitterly parodies the techniques of ‘literature of fact’ in an attempt to show how the avant-garde’s utopian dreams of a new art for a new society were realized, paradigmatically in the northern Bohemian borderlands, in dystopian art for a dystopian society and landscape.” 
—Rajendra Chitnis, University of Bristol

Josef Jedlička’s Midway Upon the Journey of Our Life, written in the years 1954–57, was a slap in the face to the reigning aesthetic of socialist realism in Communist Czechoslovakia. In this antiheroic novella, heavily influenced by Russian writer and theorist Viktor Shklovsky, meditative and speculative reflections intertwine with darkly comic scenes from the everyday life of the author and his neighbors, dwelling in the Le Corbusier-style Collective House in Litvínov, north Bohemia. The chronology of the narrative ranges from May 1945 to the early 1950s, as Jedlička and his compatriots go about the business of “building a new society” and the mythology that undergirds it. Due to its critical stance toward communism, the novella could not be published in Czech until 1966, amid the easing of cultural control leading up to Prague Spring, and even then it was still censored. A complete version did not appear until 1994, five years after the Velvet Revolution. 

Josef Jedlička (1927–1990) was a Czech essayist and novelist. Expelled from Charles University in Prague after leaving the Communist Party, he moved to the border town of Litvínov. In 1968, after the Soviet invasion and occupation, he and his family emigrated to West Germany, where he worked as a cultural editor for Radio Free Europe and also wrote many articles, studies, and reviews for Czech emigré journals.

“I know of no other book in Czech literature after 1948 that has depicted with such concentration, such intensity and aggressive melancholy, and at the same time so authentically, the tragic timelessness of those people who, lacking a future, were to be integrated into the vision of an uncertain world, yet who consciously—and for good reason—resisted.” Peter Urban

“We can begin and end anywhere, for we have not made a pact with victory, but with struggle. In the old days they began with childhood — yet how many mass graves have they filled in since then! What a terrible burden of vigilant loyalty has accrued to us over the years, what an effort we make to bear its weight, so we may still be capable of hope and love today, and, perhaps, again tomorrow! But I am writing a book: Somewhere in the middle of life comes a moment when a man must take his fate into his own hands. For it comes to pass that the young woman we hope for from birth and remember to our final hour marries and gives birth to a child. You kissed her just once, in the rain (…). And it comes to pass that they kill a poet before your eyes and a weary policeman, a gentle soul, brings home a sheet of paper from an unfinished piece of writing, folded into a fortune teller for his children. And then it comes to pass one day that tender young seamstresses, their doll-like busts working in graceful rhythm, put in overtime to mend the red banner of the revolution using the finest thread. And that is that moment. It usually comes before sunup, and from that point on, lyricism is done for” (pp. 7–9).

Josef Jedlička






Waterstones London - Piccadilly, 203/206 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9HD


14 Apr 2016 19:00


Czech Center is a coorganizer of the event

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