Martin Vopěnka

Martin Vopěnka

Writer, publisher, journalist and traveller. Head of the Association of Czech Booksellers and Publishers, owner of Práh publishing house. He won a Golden Ribbon award for best literature for youth in 2016 for Nová Planeta (New Planet) and was nominated in the same category in 2014 for the last part of his trilogy for young adults, Spící tajemství (Sleeping Secret). His books have been published in English, Polish, Russian, Arabic and Romanian. Martin Vopěnka was born on 8 September 1963.

Title Publisher Year Selected published translations Awards
My Brother the Messiah (Můj bratr mesiáš) Mladá fronta 2017 EN
O duši a dívce; Pohádky z hor Mladá fronta 2016
New Planet (Nová Planeta) Mladá fronta 2015  2016 Golden Ribbon Award – Literary section: Literature for youth
Colourless Memories (Nebarevné vzpomínky) Práh 2013
Sleeping Secret (Spící tajemství) Fragment 2013
Sleeping Justice (Spící spravedlnost) Fragment 2012
The Sleeping City (Spící město) Fragment 2011 RU
The Fifth Dimension (Pátý rozměr) Kniha Zlín 2009 PL | EN
My Journey to Nowhere (Moje cesta do ztracena ) Mladá fronta 2005 EN | DE | IT | PL
The End of Law (Konec zákona) Práh 2003
A Sea of Mourning for your Dog (Moře smutku za tvým psem) Prostor 2002
Luv via sms (Laska po sms) Práh 2001
Antarctica on the Threshold of the End (Antarktida na prahu konce) Práh 2000
The Hotel in the Middle of Life (Hotel uprostřed života ) Nakladatelství Lidové noviny 1999
Fairy Tales from the Windy Mountains (Pohádky Větrných hor) Knižní klub 1998
Ballad of Descent (Balada o sestupu) Rozmluvy 1992 EN
Rocks from the Mountains (Kameny z hor) Mladá fronta 1989
My Brother the Messiah
Můj bratr mesiáš
New Planet
Nová Planeta
Colourless Memories
Nebarevné vzpomínky
Sleeping Secret
Spící tajemství
Sleeping Justice
Spící spravedlnost
The Sleeping City
Spící město
The Fifth Dimension
Pátý rozměr
My Journey to Nowhere
Moje cesta do ztracena
Konec zákona
The End of Law
Konec zákona
Moře smutku za tvým psem
A Sea of Mourning for your Dog
Moře smutku za tvým psem
Laska po sms
Luv via sms
Laska po sms
Antarktida na prahu konce
Antarctica on the Threshold of the End
Antarktida na prahu konce
Hotel uprostřed života
The Hotel in the Middle of Life
Hotel uprostřed života
Pohádky Větrných hor
Fairy Tales from the Windy Mountains
Pohádky Větrných hor
Ballad of Descent
Balada o sestupu
Kameny z hor
Rocks from the Mountains
Kameny z hor
Award Year Country
Golden Ribbon Award – Literary section: Literature for youth 2016 Česká republika
‘The Fifth Dimension’ is a weighty and at times challenging read, its themes nothing less than life, death, the universe and love. It’s absorbing, haunting and intellectually engaging throughout, with a gut-punch denouement.
—James Lovegrove
The Financial Times

He studied nuclear physics, but since the 1990s he has made his living as a publisher and writer. He made his literary debut in 1989 with the travel journal Kameny z hor (Rocks from the Mountains, Mladá fronta, 1989), in which he recorded the memories and emotions that emerged during a journey across the Romanian Carpathians. There then followed the similarly themed Balada o sestupu (Ballad of Descent, Rozmluvy, 1992), in which the psychological theme is also connected to reflections on the state of the world, and Hotel uprostřed života (The Hotel in the Middle of Life, NLN, 1999). In 2001 Vopěnka was one of the first writers in the world to write a novel inspired by the rapid development of electronic communication, Laska po sms (Luv via sms, Práh, 1999), which is made up entirely of text messages.

He returned to the theme of travelling in his book Antarktida na prahu konce (Antarctica on the Threshold of the End, Práh, 2000), in which he describes his time at the Eco-Nelson station in the Antarctic. “And never forget that the greatest enemy in your journey through life could be you yourself – if you don’t realize who you really are and why you came into this world. My dear, you were born late – even later than me – at the end of an age – at the threshold of the last millennium, for everything suggests that if humanity is to survive, it will be at the cost of being imprisoned in the technology which we have created, but which does not contain our soul,” the author writes.

Moje cesta do ztracena (My Journey to Nowhere, Mladá fronta, 2005) is also a travelogue (in the sense of an external account of travelling along roads/non-roads, as well as in the sense of a journey through an internal landscape) in which a father and son head out into the world “Kerouac style”.

In the balladic novella Moře smutku za tvým psem (A Sea of Mourning for your Dog, Prostor, 2002) he examines human weaknesses, old scars in the soul, and whether and how it is possible to find the strength to come to terms with them.

The following year saw the publication of a novel about evil called Konec zákona (The End of Law, Práh, 2003), about which the author said: “It is necessary to describe evil in such a way that the person (reader) feels revolted by it. The aestheticization of evil is instructive. Yes, this novel is about evil – about the wickedness that lies dormant within us, waiting for the right external (or individual) conditions in order to take control. Human history is proof that this is how things really are. And even today we cannot feel safe from this dormant evil, this demon within us.”

The next novel Pátý rozměr (The Fifth Dimension, Kniha Zlín, 2009) is based on a simple plot: a distinguished astrophysicist but unsuccessful businessman has been chosen as part of a scientific experiment to spend one year alone in the mountains with only one book. He chooses an essay called Black Holes and Warped Time, and while reading it he shifts from science to faith and experiences a kind of mystic rapture in the discovery of the fifth dimension. At the same time, however, he is forced to break the rules of the experiment.

Vopěnka has also written an autobiographical book about his childhood and growing up under totalitarianism called Nebarevné vzpomínky (Colourless Memories, Práh, 2013).

Vopěnka’s latest novel for adults is the dystopian Nová planeta (New Planet, Mladá fronta, 2015), an archetypal story of love and betrayal with a biblical subtext set in the distant future. “In the world of sci-fi we find lots of novels about a devastated Earth. However, Vopěnka’s is valuable because it raises questions. To what extent does a privileged group have the right to create a new world for itself at the expense of the lives of billions of people from the old one? And to what extent and when does this new world gradually change into tyranny in the name of preservation? To what extent and at what cost do we succumb to comfort at the expense of others? The answers can be very unpleasant,” wrote Alena Slezáková in a review for the MF Dnes newspaper.

Martin Vopěnka has also written books for children and young adults. He began with Pohádky z Větrných hor (Fairy Tales from the Windy Mountains, Knižní klub, 1998) and published the encyclopedia Poznávám život a svět (I Recognize the World and Life, Práh, 2011), but fundamental to his work is the trilogy Spící město (The Sleeping City, Fragment, 2011,), Spící spravedlnost (Sleeping Justice, Fragment, 2012) and Spící tajemství (Sleeping Secret, Fragment, 2013). They tell the story of four children (though also of many other children, their families, a whole city and even the fate of the planet), who awake one day to discover that a strange illness has affected the world – all of the parents are asleep and it is impossible to wake them. “The plot is made up of individual fragments, in which the children encounter evil in its various forms (looting, vandalism, attacks by street gangs), culminating in the kidnapping of young Samuel by child traffickers. The older siblings’ search for their youngest brother opens up a whole series of important themes (sexual harassment, the omnipresence of death, alcoholism, child abuse, life behind the walls of religious societies) and difficult choices, which upset a hitherto idyllic childhood,” wrote Hana Lavičková for iLiteratura. And she adds: “Martin Vopěnka has written a book for young adult readers looking for adventure novels coupled with an interesting story, ethical codes as well as a philosophical message.”

Notable awards
 2016 Golden Ribbon Award – Literary section: Literature for youth
Foreign rights
Prague Literary Agency