Set around the wooden snack bars in a Bratislava of thieves and pornographers, the characters of Rivers of Babylon, the first in the trilogy, sink to new depths and rise to new heights in this volume.
The Wooden Village is a dour version of life under unregulated capitalism, infiltrated by survivors from the communist secret police and underworld, as well as by new mafias from the east; it gives the lie to the official (and patriotic) view of Slovakia as a country that has easily found its ancestral moral and cultural roots. It is anti-nationalistic to the core and non-judgemental, leaving the reader to assess the humanity of its cast of whores, gangsters and their clients and victims. It was particularly vital, and almost alone in the mid-1990s, in standing up to the aggressive nationalism and falsification under Prime Minister Mečiar. Slovaks emerge as no better (and no worse) than their neighbours or visitors.
The End of Freddy is set in both the Czech and Slovak republics, and branches out from being a novel about the dominance of pornography under gangster rule into a semi-fantastic political parable. It deals with the mutual prejudices and rivalries that bedevil Czechs and Slovaks, their self-aggrandising illusions against the background of a former Soviet Union disintegrating into chaos and civil wars. This is a truly international work, even though it mocks the national self-deceptions of almost everyone, and it points to the overwhelming power of economics, or rather greed, over all ideals and all other motives. At the same time it is a novel of limited redemption, in which hopelessly corrupt characters keep a modicum of humanity, while ultimate dominance is in the hands of an oligarch. It stands out as the only Slovak novel where the one incorruptible hero is a Czech, and one of the few major Slovak novels where whole chapters are written in Czech – which does more to mend the ‘velvet divorce’ than any politician has so far achieved.
By appearing in English translation, this novel will destroy many widespread illusions and misconceptions about both nations.