KNIHA o cintoríne (Book About a Cemetery), a novella written by Daniela Kapitáňová but originally published under the pseudonym Samko Tále, who is the story’s main character, has been translated into English by Julia Sherwood with the title Samko Tále’s Cemetery Book. Sherwood began translating the book into English immediately after she had finished reading the original version, without even having a contract. After the translation was completed, she offered it to a publishing house specialising in eastern Europe but was rejected. However, Garnett Press accepted the manuscript and following its initial success, it seems that a second book by Kapitáňová, Nech to zostane v rodine (Let It Stay in the Family), could also be published in English.
The translator, who has Slovak origins and had first-hand experience of the communist regime, told the Sme daily she was enchanted and moved by Kniha o cintoríne as it truly evoked the grim atmosphere of 1970s Czechoslovakia in which conformism was encouraged and free thinking and free living were suppressed.
Kapitáňová’s first work, originally published in 2000 in Slovak and since reprinted three times, was translated into eight languages, including Arabic and Belarusian.
Rajendra A. Chitnis, who teaches Russian, Czech and Slovak languages and literature from the 19th century to the present at Bristol University, wrote in a review published in The Times’ Literary Supplement entitled Hell in a Handcart: “Samko Tále is a physically and mentally stunted, forty-three-year-old resident of the Slovak border town of Komárno, who supplements his disability pension by collecting cardboard, and is writing his ‘book about a cemetery’ because an alcoholic at the station pub predicted it. His eddying ‘stream-of-consciousness’ takes in the period from his grand- mother’s wartime acquisition of Jewish property (‘why would Jews need things like a piano in a concentration camp, right?’), the Communist period and post-independence Slovakia. Observing people on his rounds, Samko notes behaviour that he considers to be against ‘the law’ and reports it to the ‘High-Ups’, as he has done since his schooldays under Communism.”
14. Feb 2011 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff