Jáchym Topol. Translated by David Short
Gargling with Tar is Topol’s British debut; already an acclaimed Czech writer, this is his fourth novel and the first to be translated into English. The former Czechoslovakia’s tumultuous history is not a topic often covered by fiction writers and it’s refreshing to find a novel that deals with the subject. Gargling with Tar explores the Soviet invasion of the former Czechoslovakia from the perspective of an orphan, Ilya, and offers an insight into the political turmoil of the country in the late 20th century.
The novel is both playful and tragic and David Short’s translation from Czech manages to retain a sense of the unfamiliar. The voice of the narrator, Ilya, is immediate and blunt and, whilst the events of the novel lead him to ever-greater moral compromises, an innocent quality persists in his commentary and there is a simplicity to the writing that is endearing. Gargling with Tar is a fascinating and intense combination of the personal and the political, charting the motivation and development of both Ilya and the country.