Distilled Spirit transports us to the remote mountains above the Danube and into the small villages in the Romanian Banat where Czechs have lived for over two centuries. A young Czech teacher comes to teach local children to read and write. They teach him how to light a corn stove. Stray dogs, trampled, mulberries, goldenrod in bloom, the distant roar of the Danube. And gradually the memories come, as though things were happening all over again: years spent in a grammar school’s gym, treading the boards, studying in Germany, the solitude of different shores and journeys. People’s faces, fleeting moments of closeness.
Matěj Hořava (b. 1980) has come up with a meditative work that is deeply autobiographical and stylistically distinctive. Its short, dense, linguistically colourful chapters are built around important events and seemingly fleeting feelings that for some reason are remembered for a lifetime: light at a certain angle of refraction, the sight of woman who will or will not be his, a howling wolf on a hillside. A special time of youth and a peculiar existence unfold before the reader’s eyes.
“[Hořava’s] prose debut is a true revelation. […] Matěj Hořava is a poet in prose who shows what literature can do without the need to be literary.”
— Ondřej Horák, Hospodářské noviny
“I venture to say that a debut like thirty-five-year-old Matěj Hořava’s Distilled Spirit hasn’t come along in Czech literature for many years. It is a wonderfully concise, finely honed work in which every word has its place like a piece in a dry stone wall, making it reminiscent of the prose of Čep, Durych and Vaculík. The rhythm created by the laying down of individual words, and also by complete ‘diary entries’, enters the bloodstream to addictive effect.”
— Petr A. Bílek, Respekt
“Although the book is composed of fragmentary texts, it is as though the motifs of closeness with women, journey and escape and settling accounts with childhood form a single entity, perhaps the author’s animus. These core themes are developed in spirals as the author adds memories and experiences gradually and his writing goes deeper. Hořava’s ability to find tiny knots where fibres meet in the fabric of time is rare indeed.”
— Jan Němec, writer
Information about the original Czech edition
Other selected published translations (2)
Palinka. Prozy z Banatu Polish