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Apocryphal Tales Paperback – April 1, 1997

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

To expect the unexpected is sound advice for readers of the late Czech writer, especially in the collection of stories at hand. As in his delightful Tales from Two Pockets (LJ 6/1/94), Capek deals with the twin challenges of truth and justice. But while those stories were in the form of detective fiction, in these Capek draws upon events and characters from history, myth, religion, and literature, approaching familiar scenarios from new, imaginative perspectives, e.g., How did Jesus' famous miracle of the loaves and fishes affect local businessmen? Did Don Juan deserve his evil reputation? How did it feel to be in Pontius Pilate's sandals? In each tale, Capek, master of human psychology, demonstrates anew that times may change but human nature remains constant. Also included are the "Would-Be-Tales," charming narratives on the human condition, and a small selection of "Fables"?wonderfully ironic observations on life. Comrada's contemporary American translation adds to the appeal of this thought-provoking collection which belongs in most libraries.?Sister M. Anna Falbo, Villa Maria Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Catbird's project to publish plenty of the Czech master Capek (1890^-1938) in fluent new translations scores again. First collected in 1945, Capek's apocrypha report the perspectives of secondary participants in historic events, so Pilate gives his impressions of that Galilean prophet whose crucifixion he was obliged to order, and of movers and shakers disclosing their real motives, so Alexander the Great explains to Aristotle why he had to "secure for my Greek homeland her natural frontier on the coast of China." The little stories are masterpieces of moral irony and the tragic vision that sees heroism as not so much rare as improbable: Hamlet's indecision in Capek's version of the great soliloquy is not over whether to be and wreak vengeance but over whether to run away and become . . . an actor! And what Capek has an old Veronese tell a Shakespeare-admiring Englishman about what really happened to Romeo and Juliet points up the difference between legend and life. Aphorisms attributed to historical figures (which Capek called fables) and eight of Capek's Would-Be Tales--impressively including the Gogolesque "The Man Who Knew How to Fly" and "The Anonymous Letter"--fill out a radiant volume. Ray Olson
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Catbird Press (April 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0945774346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0945774341
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is terrific!I think Capek is the most underrated writer of the century{at least}.He's comparatively little known,and seldom given credit even for the word "robot" which he "invented".He's got it all-humor,lovely language{it even shines through in a translation},delightful stile,and more... And he's not just a great writer,but a great playwright,too-his "Macropulos Affair" and "R.U.R" are classics.Warmly recommended.
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Karel Capek was a giant of Czech cultural and political life in the years of the first Czech Republic between WWI and WWII. Èapek rose to fame as the author of RUR, the play that introduced the word robot to the world. He was also the author of the highly acclaimed novel War With the Newts and a newspaper essayist. His life and work during this period was inextricably linked with belief in democracy upon which the First Republic was founded. Capek's devout faith in democracy informed both his world view and his writing. This is particularly evident in his Apocryphal Tales. This edition also contains a group of stories known as the Would Be Tales. Generally, these stories were originally published in Czech newspapers or literary journals.

Apocryphal Tales is a journey through the history of the world. In a series of short stories from the discovery of fire through Napoleon, Capek presents a little vignette with a viewpoint slightly different from our received wisdom. The tales begin with the Punishment of Prometheus, in which Prometheus is sentenced to death for his discovery of fire. The grounds: blasphemy; damaging the property of others; and treason. Next, an old cave man bemoans the audacity and idleness of the younger generation, wasting their time drawing bison and other creatures on cave walls. A solider complains about Achilles' vain striving for glory in doing battle with Troy. Next we come across a letter from Alexander the Great to Aristotle in which he tries to explain to his old teacher that his desire to conquer the world is based purely on the need to more properly defend his small homeland. When one considers that this last piece was written in 1937 the tale is as much a cautionary note as it is a simple story. The Death of Archimedes is also prescient.
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Format: Paperback
This is a collection of short pieces from the Czechoslovakian author of "R.U.R." (the futuristic play in which he coined the term 'robot') who stands out as a calming voice among the chaos of Central Europe in the early 20th Century. The bulk of this volume is comprised of tight, pointed retellings of stories from classical literature: the Greeks, the Bible, and even Shakespeare. By taking a unique slant on some well-known stories, usually with humorous or sardonic overtones, Capek creates modern fables with clearly implied morals that provide practical advice for even the most contemporary readers. Themes range from fear of change, and the importance of the work ethic, to contempt for mob mentality. By placing these tales in the distant past, he is able to present specific political arguments without too openly offending the powers-of-the-moment. With his warm humanism, pointed humor, and continuing sociopolitical relevance, Capek should be a great favorite of fans of such political humorists as Art Buchwald and Jimmy Breslin. With the re-emergence of Eastern/Central Europe from communist domination, it's not too much to hope that Capek's work will soon enjoy the reputation it so richly deserves.
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Format: Paperback
Capek is a brilliant and creative writer, whose musings are well worth careful translation into English. Sadly, this edition's been insensitively translated, with characters forced into the type of "working-stiff" American English that Isaac Asimov does so badly (and Bruce Springsteen does so well by avoiding a patronising tone). The Damon Runyanesque argot sits uncomfortably with the Central European setting of these tales and for me renders them unreadable. Such a great opportunity missed! Such a terrible thing to do to great literature! PLEASE edit the translation into something resembling English....then I'll buy 3 copies and tell all my friends to get it. As of now....no.
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Karel Capek is one of the greatest writers of the first half of the 20th century. Too bad the Swedish Academy of Science was too afraid of Hitler to award Capek the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anyhow, Capek's apocryphal tales are a nice collection of short stories on a variety of topic, many of them taking a clever and humorous approach to stories we know.

Perhaps the most interesting tale Capek tells in this work is the story of "Five Loaves." This is about the biblical account of Jesus blessing five loaves of bread and feeding the crowd of five thousand with them. The story is told by an angry baker who first liked and in fact loved Jesus and His teaching, but when he saw how His miracle threatened his business he quickly changed is mind. It's brilliant and makes you think of biblical stories in a different light.

Not all the tales are as interesting as this one, but they are worth reading. Capek's writing in Czech is so brilliant that it's difficult to translate and not lose some of that brilliance.
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