Wednesday, 2 January 2019

'Here Is My Country'


John Howard's first story in Inner Europe offers a striking contrast to Mark Valentine's tale of Ravenna. The setting Howard chooses is Bohemia in 1948, when a communist coup was engineered to force Czechoslovakia within the Soviet orbit. At the same time there were mass expulsions of the Sudeten Germans, part of the wider upheaval that saw vast displacement of civilians.

Against this background Howard offers a tale of a provincial town and its magnificent library - which, against all reason and probability, suddenly fills up with water. The library, the work of Herr Graupen, is a magnificent repository of books, art, indeed all European culture. It become inaccessible to most, but not all, of the populace as the nation is systematically betrayed.

I admit I'm not sure about this one. For me, the combination of historical realism with the surreal events at the library don't mesh very well. This could be down to my own ignorance, as for all I know flooded libraries are one of the key images of Czech literature. Suffice to say it's an interesting story that will probably repay rereading.

Stay tuned for the next story in this timely collection.

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