The Oxford-Weidenfeld prize is one of the UK’s most prestigious translation awards. This year, six books are being judged by a panel of Oxford academics and translators – amongst them Marek Tomin’s translation of Emil Hakl’s ‘O rodičích a dětech’, titled ‘Of Kids & Parents’. This Tuesday, Marek flies to Britain ahead of tomorrow evening’s ceremony. Just before he left though, I caught up with him to ask what had attracted him to the Czech original of Hakl’s book. As well as the writing style, Marek suggests, there are more personal reasons for his attachment to the Prague-based novel:
“I grew up in, and have moved back to, Letná. So Stromovka Park was always somewhere where all kind of things went on for me. The space concerned is very, very close to my personal life.
“I come from a dissident family, both of my parents were signatories of Charter 77, my mother was a spokesperson for Charter 77, and when my father signed the Charter at the end of 1976 in the first wave of signatories, as a result he was sacked from his job at the power station in Holešovice. And when he got sacked from that job, the only place that would employ my father was Prague Zoo. And so for two years, my father was the night watchman at Prague Zoo.
“So there is an immediate connection. Because the book begins with the zoo, and then they go through Stromovka to Dejvice and the first pub that they go to is a pub that I have spent many hours sitting in. So, there was an immediate thematic connection.”
“Yes, it is extraordinary. It is very funny actually, above all else. And it is totally strange. You know, I studied geology originally, I’m an earth scientist. So, to be going to Oxford as someone short-listed for a translation prize is special I suppose.
“I was at Oxford between ’88 and ’91. So I was at Oxford when the wall came down, and when people were walking about Prague shaking their keys and all that sort of thing. And in some ways the book, Of Kids and Parents, is a kind of review. The story is very simple, a 40-something-year-old son goes to visit his 70-something-year-old father and they go for a walk through Troja and Stromovka Park. They visit lots of pubs along the way, drink some beer, eat some food, and in all of that they go through a huge chunk of 20th century history.”
Emil Hakl's ‘Of Kids & Parents’ translated by Marek Tomin is
published by Twisted Spoon Press.
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