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Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia, by Mariusz Szczygiel, Melville House, RRP£18.99, 304 pages
In 1951, just a few decades after Kafka’s The Trial appeared in Czechoslovakia, the writer Lenka Reinerova was placed in solitary confinement by the communist regime. When she asked what her crime was, she was simply told: “You know better than anyone.”
Many of the stories in Mariusz Szczygiel’s portrait of Czechoslovakia could have come from the pages of Kafka. The Polish journalist has put together a collection of unofficial histories. There are tales of love, death and betrayal; we learn of the man who created the world’s largest shoe company, and the sculptor chosen to create a 150ft-high statue of Stalin.
The book’s title alludes to Karel Gott, the Czech singer accused of kowtowing to the regime, and the relationship between art and politics is a running theme, with due reverence for those who kept their integrity. Szczygiel’s absorbing, offbeat history celebrates the truths they defended against oppression.