Translated by Mark Corner
Karolinum Press, Charles University, 201 pages, Hardcover
On the remarkable River Orsh there lies a town of good reputation and good water. The water bubbles up in shady places and the nine most powerful springs, secured in nine wells, have been designated with the names of the nine Muses. This is the spa town of Little Karlsbad. It is a town open to view, built half in brick and half in mud and stone, a town of doubtful construction and enduring health.
“There are no loafers here, mind you,” the mayor of the spa is used to saying as he cuts a deck of cards. “Tally ho! Ours is a community forever on the go, running the race and arriving at the sixth month of June without delay and duly awaiting the regular deadline.”
Well then, in this distant realm of purposeful activity, where there is no time to lose (alas, see how age bears down upon its citizens while it gives an air of legality to their assets), there were several smallholdings and some fairly ancient properties. They were acquired for the most part thanks to a card game variously known as Little and Large and Tiny Takes All. These assets were blessed and well administered, because, as God is my witness, the local burghers are thoroughly versed in their trades and are not deterred by the fact that, as spas go, Little Karlsbad is in the ninth band where size is concerned. Nor are they deterred by the unseasonable cloud cover and the feeble efforts of the sun to break through it, by the impermeability of the soil or by the inadequacies of its hot springs. Let it be so! They may lack a public sewage system here, but this is a good-natured and respectable town.
(pages 10 - 12)
Is it worth reading a translation of a book that has been said to be untranslatable? Even when you know something has been lost in the translation? In the case of Summer of Caprice the answer is yes—what a delightful little book! I did a WorldCat search for the book and only 17 copies showed up. Thankfully two were near me so it was easy to obtain a copy through an interlibrary loan.
Radio Prague has an overview on Vančura--his life, work, and death (at the hand of the Nazis). They also have an interview with translator Mark Corner who provides plenty of information and some excerpts from the book. Here are a couple of quotes from the interview:
Tell us a little about the book "Summer of Caprice".
"It is about a summer in which there is very little but rain, though the sky occasionally clears at night. It is set in a small spa town, which I translate as Little Karlsbad, and there is a little bit of the kind of small town mentality about the people living there, although they are also in many ways very charming. The book centres around three eccentric characters - a major, a canon and someone I translate variously as a bathing superintendent and a magister thermarum and various other strange phrases. He's basically someone who looks after the local swimming pool on the edge of the river."
We should also mention this new edition. It is beautifully produced and also illustrated.
"Yes. The Karolinum Press produced it and it has illustrations by Jiri Grus. I think they are wonderful. It is a hardback book with many, many different illustrations, some in a kind of sepia brown, which I think can be very attractive, and some in full colour. They portray the main characters in the book, I think, very well, and I really do say - if you don't like that translation you can always buy the book for the illustrations!"
More on the book in the next post…