Set in Czechoslovakia between the 1940s and the 1990s, Tomáš Zmeškal’s EU Prize for Literature-winning novel focuses on one family’s tragic story of love and the unspoken. Josef meets his wife, Kveta, before the Second World War at a public lecture on Hittite culture. Kveta chooses to marry Josef over their mutual friend Hynek, but when her husband is later arrested and imprisoned for an unnamed crime, Kveta gives herself to Hynek in return for help and advice. The author explores the complexities of what is not spoken, what cannot be said, the repercussions of silence after an ordeal, the absurdity of forgotten pain, and what it is to be an outsider.
In Zmeškal’s tale, told not chronologically but rather as a mosaic of events, time progresses unevenly and unpredictably, as does one’s understanding. The saga belongs to a particular family, but it also exposes the larger, ongoing struggle of postcommunist Eastern Europe to come to terms with suffering when catharsis is denied. Reporting from a fresh, multicultural perspective, Zmeškal makes a welcome contribution to European literature in the twenty-first century.
More infromation on the publisher’s website.
“[Love Letter in Cuneiform] is a very fine novel of (a few slices of) Czech life in the second half of the twentieth century, with a nice balance of the wildly imagined and the all-too-real.”
— M.A.Orthofer, The Complete Review
“To frame a book around a letter written in cuneiform, the wedge-shaped script of the ancient Sumerians in which the Gilgamesh epic was recorded, suggests a fascination with things exotic, alien, difficult to decipher. Since most surviving examples of cuneiform are official letters and records, however, it also implies the persistence of bureaucracy and its inevitable intertwining with literacy and literature. Tomáš Zmeškal’s fascinating novel of 2008, here adroitly translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker, plays between these poles of fantasy and bureaucracy, and their different ways of managing human life.”
— Kathryn Murphy, The Times Literary Supplement
Information about the original Czech edition
Other selected published translations (4)
List miłosny pismem klinowym Polish
Az ékírásos szerelmeslevél Hungarian