In recent years there have been few works to take as their subject matter our recent past. And perhaps not one of these has taken as its principal theme collectivization in the villages of the 1950s, at least not until Jiří Hájíček’s novella Rustic Baroque. Hájíček was born in 1967, so he grew up long after this dark period in the life of the country-dweller.
To all appearances the story has unremarkable beginnings one hot summer in the gardens of the castle in Třeboň. Pavel Straňanský is a genealogist who works in the archive putting together family trees, mostly for wealthy expatriates searching for their roots in the old country. A somewhat unusual commission draws him into a relatively recent story which sparks his attention – that of village beauty Rozálie Zandlová and the farmers of Tomašice village.
This solitary seeker wanders around in the South Bohemian countryside, his task to reconstruct from the records of old chronicles and the testimonies of surviving witnesses the story of a statement which landed several farmers in prison. But the threads of the story become more and more tightly entangled, and Pavel discovers that all his detective work, which brings him right into the present, uncovers no clear answers, indeed only further questions. And these questions are always the same, regardless of whether they relate to a story fifty years or just a few weeks old. How should we handle our guilt, our urge to take revenge, forgiveness? And what power does the past work over us?
“Rustic Baroque is one of those quiet, unassuming novels that sneaks up on you; the kind of book that draws you in and bears you along easily and languidly and then turns, just at the right moment, and very politely kicks you in the gut.”
Selected published translations (2)
Rustic Baroque English
Селски барок Bulgarian