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City Sister Silver by Jachým Topol


In terms of the decade of the 1990s, Jáchym Topol is one of Czech literature's leading protagonists. Son of the playwright Josef Topol, grandson of the writer Karel Schulz and brother of (and lyricist for) Filip Topol, the much-loved frontman of the rock band Psí vojáci, Topol became engaged in the literary and political underground at an early age. In 1977, at age 15, he became the youngest signatory of the dissident intiative Charter 77. He associated with the leaders of the dissident intelligentsia, such as The Plastic People of the Universe manager Ivan Jirous, the poet Egon Bondy and the then playwright and political activist Václav Havel.

As one of the most powerful, and only, works of post-1989 writing to examine the conditions of the tumultuous transition period, the novel was a veritable blast onto the Czech literary scene. In its length and weighty content, Sestra tore away from the artistic pack and saw critics scrambling to make sense of it. Its reception was mostly favorable, but there were a few who had their reservations. Some of their issues included inscrutability of the plot, violence and darkness of the atmosphere and the frenzied word pacing.

Sestra seems to have confounded its admirers and critics alike, for the two sides appear to love or hate the novel for basically the same reasons. Its density and chaos have been taken by its sympathizers to reflect the social reality of the period immediately following the Velvet Revolution, with its fluctuations and free-market euphoria, ultimately leading to disillusionment and corruption. Sestra captures the irony, joy, confusion and gruesomeness inherent in the outlook of young Czechs during this period. Topol was one of the first of these young Czechs (he was in his very early thirties when he wrote Sestra) to address his generation's attitude toward the new times, and he was the only one to do so in such a creative and epic manner.

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  • H H

    Thanks for the insightful discussion; been inspired to want to continue on!

    November 19, 2012

  • H H

    This novel is nuts! Looking forward to the discussion -

    November 14, 2012

    • Nicole

      I know! It took me awhile to settle in to the style, but I'm really enjoying it!

      November 15, 2012

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