Novelist, translator and essayist, linguist, author of books for children and adults. He is the recipient of the State Prize for Literature (2014), the Tom Stoppard Prize (2013) and dozens more French and Czech literary prizes. He is one of the most widely translated Czech authors – his Europeana has been published in more than 30 languages, making it the most translated post-1989 Czech book. He was born in Prague on 23 April 1957.
After signing the VONS petition in 1979 calling for the release of political prisoners in Czechoslovakia he was forbidden from taking a university education. After several manual-labour jobs he emigrated to France in 1984. He wrote the literary column for the quarterly L’Autre Europe and he prompted the establishment of the Free University in Nouallaguet, where he lectured until 2010. He has published academic literary essays, an anthology on the history of Czech and French literature, and he was the first to make the poetry of Vladimír Holan accessible to French readers. He translates from French to Czech (Rabelais, Jarry, Queneau, Beckett, Vian) and Czech to French (Vančura, Hrabal, Holan, Skácel, Holub). He writes for both Czech and French magazines.
His first book to be published in France was Šmírbuch jazyka českého (Keeping an Eye on Czech Slang and Cant, Edice K, 1989), which contains more than sixteen thousand expressions which might be termed as argot, slang and ‘unconventional Czech’ from 1945 to 1989. It has been republished several times and first came out in Czechoslovakia in 1992 (Ivo Železný publishers).
There then followed the poetry collection Anebo (Or, Volvox Globator, 1992), a fairy story for children and their parents O princi Čekankovi (The Extraordinary Adventures of Prince Chicory, Volvox Globator, 1993) and more essayistic prose Aniž je co nového pod sluncem (There is Nothing New Under the Sun, Mladá fronta, 1994) – which this time contained expressions and idioms from the Bible. In the form of a kind of memory game, Rok Čtyřiadvacet with the subtitle Progymnasma 1965–1989 (Year Forty-Two: Progymnasma 1965–1989, Volvox Globator, 1995), attempts to find a description of reality from the everyday impressions of emigration. Each diary entry starts with the words “I remember…” and has no more than one paragraph. However, this can be added to or expanded each day, and thus Ouředník works with a smile and with surprising ideas.
The following poems, Neřkuli (Not to Mention, Mladá fronta, 1996), fluctuate between an everyday poetic document and linguistic or formal perfection, including the “rummager’s” humorous folk-style poetry. In 2004 the author published all of his existing poetry collections and other verse as Dům bosého (House of a Barefoot Man, Paseka, 2004).
Ouředník then added the collection Klíč je ve výčepu with the subtitle Folklor na WC (The Key is in the Taproom: Folklore on the WC, Volvox Globator, 2000) to his essays in search of linguistic peculiarities.
A year later saw the publication of one of Ouředník’s major works, Europeana: Stručné dějiny dvacátého věku (Europeana. A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, Paseka, 2001), for which the author was nominated the Magnesia Litera for prose. “True literature and art are not interested in the ordered step of history, but rather those kicks and blows which fall upon the individual walking past. To retell – but not to rewrite – the history of the modern age as a slapping match with the participation of people on the universal scale of European civilization, the continent of the Europeana, is therefore to establish a kind of historical itinerary of slapping, which is also a way to outflank history. Ouředník’s book shows that hope for literature is not completely lost,” wrote Jiří Peňás in a review for the weekly magazine Týden. The book was also adapted for the theatre and very quickly came out in Germany, Poland and Bulgaria, other languages then followed – within five years the total had reached twenty-one.
Příhodná chvíle, 1855 (The Opportune Moment, 1855, Torst, 2006) tells of the attempts to colonize North and South America through the stories of two colonizers testing the possibilities and limits of human solidarity, equality and freedom.
The main characters of the book Ad acta (Case Closed, Torst, 2006) are Prague pensioners, a detective and an art-student rape victim – although the book is to an extent humorous, it hides a harsh picture of life today. “The author is fascinated by French intellectual life and Czech backwardness in equal measure, both of which he is well versed in, and the passages in the book which are the most fun are where he skips between these extremes,” wrote critic Pavel Mandys in a review.
Ouředník also wrote the play Dnes a pozítří – Rozhovory pěti přeživších (Today and After Tomorrow, Conversations of Five Survivors, Větrné mlýny, 2012). His linguistic essays were collected to form Svobodný prostor jazyka (On the Free Exercise of Language, Torst, 2013).