Tzum | Review: Joseph Panek – Love in the Age of Global Climate Change

Filling yourself endlessly and hilariously with chocolate sticks

Joseph Panek is a relatively unknown Czech writer who was born in Czechoslovakia (1966) and studied (molecular biology), but later spent nine years abroad (Australia and Norway) and traveled around the world for various scientific conferences. The key words of his first (autobiographical) novel, which won the biggest literary prize in his hometown of Magnesia Litera in 2018, are Displacement in a Tough World.

Tomáš, whose name the reader only learns on page 68, is the writer’s alternative ego. As a genetic biologist, he is coming to India for a scientific conference. In Bangalore, he meets a handsome Indian who is photographed standing in his western attire against the brightly colored saris of other Indian women. She kindly asks you to delete that photo. Meets her again at the conference. She seems to have traveled all over the world. They fall in love and tell each other their life story in bed. He mainly talks about his adventures in Iceland, where he traveled virtually without money and equipment. He slept in the open, suffering from cold and hunger among the sulfur clouds, volcanoes, and volcanic fields. She tells him about her grandfather who tried to create an adventurous life in South Australia. However, after that strange night in bed, Tomas does not see her, and the reader asks if she (anonymously!) Really existed or if she was not physically erased from him as in the photo.

The plot is just that. Life in southern India, like its heat, smoke, drought, dirt and chaos, was in stark contrast to the hardships in Iceland. Staying in India was not only a climatic but also a racial shock to him. He finds that he still carries with him stereotypes and prejudices about non-white men in his childhood in Czechoslovakia. , Pearly white teeth, a wide smile, like being on duty, but he wonders if that kindness and perfection really make sense.

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The format in which Panek modeled his novel is interesting. He describes his adventures in India in an extraordinary way. It allows him to distance himself from his self: on the one hand he generalizes what is said, and on the other he distances himself from his own moral values. You-form looks like this: “They look at you and smile broadly” followed by: “And you are not very happy” (p. 10), followed by “she says” (p. 175) At the same time, you- Form, most common in song poems, is a story put in an emotional jacket: a kind of emotional flow in which the sentences flow into each other, the key words appear, the sentences are temporarily interrupted by interjections (‘Damn’, ‘No’, ‘Do you understand’, etc.), the middle of the sentence Such as exclamation marks. Sometimes this kind of description is reminiscent of a divinity, with an ‘inner’ lament with many actions and word connections (‘wide and humble laugh’, p.166). Unusually, Pánek works with abbreviations in text and numbers instead of in asterisks instead of words or phrases: 2nd, ***** hotel, 200 Rps / day, <1 min., 4 × 4 (= four-wheel drive). That whole flow is given a circular pattern: the story ends where it began.

Blurb refers to Hrabal’s prose in Bohm, who wants to combine series of actions into his prose (e.g. those endless pub crawls). Compare Thomas endowing himself with endless, hilarious chocolates with starving chocolate in the pan. But another famous Czech writer may be mentioned: Jaroslav Hasek, especially his hero, the good soldier Svez, lost contact with his battalion when he wandered endlessly around the small town of Putim in southern Bohemia. Parallel to Thomas’ hitchhiking around Iceland, Svezk happily smokes his pipe and drinks beer, though he is not affected by the given situation.
Finally, the Flemish translator, who is supported by the guidance of the ELV (Center for the Translation of Literature), has been able to adequately translate this difficult, experimental text to a superior performance.

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Keys Merks

Joseph Panek: Love in times of global climate changeTranslated from the Czech language by Brecht Verkelt. Nobleman, Groningen. 180 pages. 22.95.

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