Just as Charles Darwin, sailing on the Pacific Ocean onboard the Beagle, was not the only person to discover the laws of evolution, so this bestiary from the studio of Miroslav Šašek is not the only weird and wonderful version of nature to come welling up from the depths of an artist’s imagination. This set of illustrations, whose narrative was provided by the artist’s great-niece Olga Černá, poses as the work of a shipwrecked naturalist who is studying the local fauna on an island under the watchful eye of his pragmatic wife. And because it not only includes abundant two-headed species (the two-headed meadow squirrel), but also useful ones (the milk-yielding udderite) and edible ones (the four-legged patterperch), the enlightened Victorian scholar decides to become a conservationist. The appearance of the old notebook, its diary form, hint of absent-mindedness and the afterword by an expert all help to create the illusion of a “found” scientific work so convincingly that the result is destined to remain in the minds of lovers of humorous Robinsonades for a long time to come.
Olga Černá (1964) studied agronomy at the University of Agriculture in Prague and has worked as a bookseller, teacher and librarian. She has written for the magazines Mateřídouška, Sluníčko and Jonáš, and she writes a blog for the weekly magazine Respekt. The most significant works by this core author of the Baobab publishing house, co-founder of the Miroslav Šašek Foundation and editor of the biographical album To je M. Sasek (This is M. Sasek, 2014) include Kouzelná baterka (The Magic Torch; Golden Ribbon, 2004) and Jitka a kytka (Jitka and the Flower, 2010; both illustrated by Michaela Kukovičová). She also captured the dreamlike world of nature in the books Poklad starého brouka (The Old Beetle’s Treasure, 2007) and Z domu a zahrady (From the Home and Garden, 2011). The socially engaged prose Klárka a 11 babiček (Klárka and the 11 Grandmothers, 2015) was nominated for a Magnesia Litera award in 2016. Miroslav Šašek (1916–1980) studied architecture and drawing at the Czech Technical University in Prague and at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After the February Coup he remained in exile, mainly in Paris and Munich, where he worked at the Czech office of Radio Free Europe. Before leaving Czechoslovakia, he created books for children including Benjamin a tisíc mořských draků kapitána Barnabáše (Benjamin and the Thousand Sea Dragons of Captain Barnabas, 1947) and Nejmilejší říkadla (The Nicest Nursery Rhymes, 1948). His works were banned in Czechoslovakia until 1989. He became famous internationally for This is… (from 1959 onward), his series of illustrated travel guides to the world’s great cities, which eventually enjoyed popularity in the Czech Republic too.