Karel Čapek : life and work /
by Ivan Klíma ; translated from the Czech by Norma Comrada.
1st English-language ed.
North Haven, CT : Catbird Press, c2002.
ix, 259 p. ; 23 cm.
0945774532 (alk. paper)
More Details
added author
North Haven, CT : Catbird Press, c2002.
0945774532 (alk. paper)
contents note
A trio of geniuses -- Mama's boy -- Visual artist or writer? -- Civilized optimism swept away -- Not two sheaves, thousands of stalks -- From tutor to editor -- The shy boy as robber -- Olga : love with a secret -- The first report on the end of civilization : R.U.R. -- The second report on the end of civilization : The absolute at large -- A morality play about insects and people -- To live briefly but fully -- Personal crisis and flight to Italy -- Return of the robber -- A bad dream -- A protest against ideologies -- How to give warning of destruction -- Important for the nation -- Mary and Martha -- The stolen document and other tales -- The end of the robber -- The story of a man hurrying towards death -- Looking for love -- The failure of the intellectuals will make barbarians of us all -- The third report on the end of civilization : War with the newts -- Do you wish merry me -- Artist v. newspaperman -- It could have been a book about soldiers or the crew of a ship -- Anyone can go to his death, but to lose someone -- We are all increasingly alone.
general note
"A Garrigue book."
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Sixty years and more after his death, the arguments are forgotten, along with the polemics, the passions, the accusations, and the envy - but the work remains. More of Capek's work has survived than has that of the majority of his Czech contemporaries. It is interesting that, even though Capek became famous first and foremost for his plays, today he seems to speak to readers more with his novels and stories, and even his journalism: his perceptive essays on the spiritual problems of Europe, the role of the intelligentsia, and the dangerous trends leading to totalitarian thought, as well as his splendid columns about everyday things and ordinary people, about their interests, hobbies, and passions.

Finally, the results of his ability to perceive those tendencies in human behavior that threaten our civilization remain fascinating to this day; his War with the Newts , for instance, belongs for all time among those works that have lost nothing in their ability to urgently address readers.

Capek was an author inspired more often by ideas than by individuals' fate, and yet, as I try to demonstrate, his work often reflects his own problems and traumas, his personal anxieties and hopes. His talent was many-sided, and he had everything that makes a writer a writer: the ability to see in things and events what ordinarily goes unnoticed, and to write about them with a vivid wit and with a freshness that can be appreciated to this day. He was skilled at describing even commonplace events in the most unexpected ways, and at giving a new sense to old stories. He had the gift of epic narrative as well as lyrical observation. He kept a close eye on the consequences of our actions and on the suicidal streaks of our civilization. He also had an extraordinary linguistic sense, and a close reading of his works still delights the reader with its richness, precision, and of course the language itself - as if it had not been touched by time.

Capek died at a tragic moment in Czechoslovak and European history. That may be why, among those who study and write about his work, it has become the established view that his fate, too, was tragic, and so they have placed him in the pantheon of those great Czech personages traditionally considered martyrs. I believe the truth is just the opposite. Even though Capek surely, as we all do, had his difficult moments and times when he was dispirited by his illness, he lived a happy life. He was a man of work, and his work brought him abundant satisfaction and praise. He was one of the few Czech artists who could say, at the end of his life, that he had remained true to himself. Even in his personal life Capek was not unhappy. He gained the friendship of any number of genuinely outstanding, distinguished individuals, he maintained an unsurpassed relationship with his brother, and in the end attained even what had previously seemed unattainable to him: marrying the woman he had truly loved and admired for many years, and who, in her own way, loved and respected him as well.

However often he might have complained about being insufficiently appreciated, he received such favor as few authors have ever known, and the love of readers throughout the entire world - and thanks to his journalism, he had more readers than any other modern Czech writer.

While speaking of the interests of readers, I must emphasize that, for several generations in Czechoslovakia, democracy was only a memory from the past. For many readers, therefore, Capek was a representative and symbol of anti-ideological thought, of tolerance and democratic values, of art that was free and unfettered by any doctrine. Yet I believe that he can be understood anywhere in the world as a man who, in the midst of an insane, chaotic epoch preparing for the bloodiest conflict in history, stood up for the individual against any and all kinds of manipulation. He exhorted us to resist the impending barbarization, and he insisted that we can succeed only to the extent that we are cognizant of and honor those values which humankind has already formed. In order for us neither to forfeit those values nor abandon them, Capek is as valuable and urgently needed today as he was in his own time.

Excerpted from KAREL CAPEK LIFE AND WORK by Ivan Klíma Copyright © 2001 by Ivan Klíma
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2002-05-15:
Capek (1890-1938) is among the greatest figures of modern Czech literature, along with contemporaries Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek. A prolific journalist and writer, he is best known for the fictions War with the Newts and Tales from Two Pockets and the play R.U.R., which introduced the word robot (coined by his brother). Catbird Press, the leading publisher of Czech literature in English translation, commissioned this critical biography from noted novelist and scholar Klima, a survivor of the Prague Spring (1967); the translator is the leading American authority on Capek. Klima's study is organized chronologically, relating the details of Capek's life to the thematic concerns of his works. Himself a Czech, Klima appreciates Capek's struggle against both Marxism-Leninism and Nazism, capturing his despair and resolution after Munich, even as he was dying of pneumonia. He also brings a novelist's perspective to the proceedings, allowing readers to appreciate the depth and thematic complexity of Capek's writing. The result is a valuable introduction to one of the little-appreciated but significant figures of modern world literature. Recommended for both public and academic libraries. T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2002-05-16:
Internationally acclaimed Czech writer Karel Capek (1890-1938) may have played second fiddle to his Prague colleague and contemporary Franz Kafka, but he gets treated to a fond biography with Ivan Klima's (No Saints or Angels) Karel Capek: Life and Work. Primary sources and occasional literary exegesis add to the detailed, thoughtful account of a man whose plays, novels and journalism made him a "symbol of anti-ideological thought... of art that was free and unfettered by any doctrine." Norma Conrada translates from the Czech. For true Capek fans, Catbird Press will simultaneously publish Cross Roads, two Capek story collections in a single volume. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 2002-12-01:
Klima's appraisal of Capek is far superior to Bohuslava Bradbook's (Karel Capek: In Pursuit of Truth, Tolerance, and Trust, CH, Nov'98). Where Bradbook's book lacked critical focus and discrimination among sources, Klima's is a comprehensive, measured, fond reading of the Czech democratic relativist's entire oeuvre. Where Bradbook grouped chapters by genre, Klima follows chronology, viewing Capek's work through the rapid political shifts from WW I through the founding of the first Czech Republic to the rise of Hitler and the ominous Munich Pact that arguably killed the writer. Klima, himself a distinguished novelist, has been a Capek advocate since the 1960s, when to do so in Czechoslovakia involved personal risk. For him, Capek is neither the martyr of some liberals nor the sell-out of some leftists. Klima condenses tremendous learning and long reflection into brief chapters that render tight, cogent judgments. Better than other writers have, Klima explains the claim that Capek is a writer of ideas, a claim he convincingly supports. Comrada's translation perfectly captures Klima's gracious, breezy, unpretentious style. Anyone familiar with Capek's work should find pleasure in this book, which is recommended for all libraries. D. N. Mager Johnson C. Smith University
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, May 2002
Publishers Weekly, May 2002
Kirkus Reviews, June 2002
Booklist, July 2002
Washington Post, July 2002
Los Angeles Times, August 2002
Choice, December 2002
New York Times Book Review, December 2002
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Main Description
Contemporary Czech novelist and playwright Ivan Klima has transformed his lifelong admiration for the work of the great Czech novelist and playwright Karel Capek into an extended personal essay on Capek's life and work. Written with letters and other material not available to earlier biographers and critics, Klima reflects on the effects of the author's personal relationships and scrutinizes his artistic and philosophical influences. This is not merely a biography or a critical work covering all of Capek's writings; it is a wide-ranging study of the life and work of a great artist as examined from the perspective of another eminent writer who grew up in Capek's shadow.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem