First published in 2002, Jaroslav Rudiš’ debut book Nebe pod Berlínem (The Sky under Berlin) is a very refreshing piece of literature and was an immediate success. It received the Orten Prize, gained widespread publicity and attained cult status.
This somewhat autobiographical story is about a thirty-year-old who feels he has to change his run-of-the-mill life radically, before it’s too late. From one day to the next, he quits his job, leaves his girlfriend and ultimately the Czech Republic. He takes off for his boldest dreams – for Berlin. Here he is immediately engulfed by the city’s exhilarating rhythm. He encounters interesting people, forms the punk band U-Bahn, falls in love with Katrin, a student, and is fascinated by Berlin’s underground. He lives to the full and enjoys everything life has to offer him in his whirl of activity and passion for adventure. The author lets the hero drift through a whole string of remarkable and funny scenes, involving him in different situations and problems – while making very apt and trenchant comments about things as he moves along.
Yet the book does not just revolve around the amusing story of its hero, set against present-day Berlin. Other realities play key roles alongside the protagonist and the relatively simple storyline. These include the places the hero visits (the eerie, pregnant space of Berlin’s underground), the people he meets, and the snippets from their lives and memories. For the most part, they embody not only the experiences of the main character, but also those of an entire generation who experienced the GDR and the Wall as well as playing with plastic Indians. The narrator also has the extraordinary ability to craft a compact universe out of these so very diverse and fragmentary memories, impressions, colours, sounds and feelings. He blends them together so skilfully that they create a complex, dark and mysterious atmosphere. Among the main motifs running through the entire book are some almost indescribable phenomena: for instance, the punk rhythm, the mad rides on the underground, Berlin’s fleeting, dynamic and enigmatic moods or the local colour of its districts.
Rudiš’ narrative flows smoothly, individual images replacing one another as rapidly as underground stations. The author describes everything happening around the leading character in the captivating form of an open narrative whose remarkable impact lies in the natural flow of its language.
Nebe pod Berlínem may represent the compelling fate of a seeker, of a lost generation, or the tale of a city, the partial exposure of its underground system, an alternative travel guide for Berlin – or all of these in one. Though one thing is certain: thanks to the book’s treatment of unusual and contemporary issues, and its great literary and visual realisation (design and illustrations: Juraj Horváth), it cannot fail to leave a deep impression.
(Taken from Read me)
Information about the original Czech edition
Other selected published translations (3)
Der Himmel unter Berlin German
Niebo pod Berlinem Polish
Il cielo sotto Berlino Italian