A novel about the life of one of the greatest Czech-Jewish writers, Karel Poláček.
The central figure in this biographical novel set during the Second World War is the journalist and writer Karel Hirsch, whose name, however, is a cover for the famous Czech writer Karel Poláček. Hirsch, trapped in Prague, is unable to get out in time and is gradually limited in what he can do by the ever-tightening restrictions. In spite of the situation, he is able to stay remarkably calm by trying to see the onerous circumstances around him as an opportunity to change his life. He also has a late romantic encounter with his lover, the Jewish lawyer Dora Vaňáková, to whom he runs from his furious wife. For Czech writers who found themselves in the midst of war, it was typical that the books they wrote during this time of crisis, face to face with death, were their most optimistic and bright. Karel Poláček, who died on the Death March from Auschwitz, was no exception – and the novel captures this in the story of his life. Although it is a novel about the final years of this great writer, it is not a biography: it only describes the final moments of his life. Martin Daneš also has an affinity with the writer as he has translated two of his books into French and has been interested in him for a long period.
The novel was published simultaneously in French entitled Les Mots brisés by the prestigious French publishers La Différence.
“Scattered Words is not just a novel about Karel Poláček or his alter ego Karel Hirsch. It is also about searching for a stance in life which would allow us to express ourselves freely, regardless of the age, its values and social conventions, so that we wouldn’t have to deny our own identity or be constantly ashamed of our own, all too human, frailty.”
“The reader plunges into the inner world of the protagonist and thus perceives the historical context all the more sharply. The tragedy is marked by a gentle as well as biting humour which never descends into vulgar nonsense or pathos – Daneš doesn’t play at being omnipotent and neither does he moralize. Combined with its impressive style, this book is a worthy tribute to Karel Poláček and his tragic fate.”
—Lenka Horňáková-Civade, Czech author based in France
About the author:
Martin Daneš (1962) is a Czech writer who emigrated to Paris in the 1980s and studied journalism and international relations. After returning to the Czech Republic he contributed articles to the Czech, French and Belgian press. At the start of the 1990s he was a diplomatic advisor in the Office of the Czech President. In the following years he became the editor-in-chief of several periodicals: Denní Telegraf (1992–1993), the monthly Mezinárodní politika (2000) and even Hustler (2001–2004). His first book was published in 1998. He also translates Czech fiction into French: in addition to one book by Karel Čapek he has also translated two novels by Karel Poláček: Muži v ofsajdu (Men Offside, 1931) and Bylo nás pět (We Were a Handful, 1946). He lives in Paris and also writes in French.