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Utz Paperback – December 1, 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (December 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140115765
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140115765
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chatwin is a protean writer ( On the Black Hill , The Songlines ) always capable of surprising and entertaining his readers. In this slim volume, he draws a satirical portrait of life in a Socialist stateand concludes that human nature is the same no matter what political winds are blowing. The last descendent of an old Czech family, the eponymous art dealer Kaspar Utz lives in Prague, where the Russian occupiers allow him to keep his priceless Meissen porcelain collection on condition that he bequeath it to the national museum. To the narrator, Utz represents the quintessential adapter, able to tolerate a repressive government as long as his private life is undisturbed. Obsessed with a passion to preserve these remnants of the bygone days of imperial glory, Utz implies that the figurines are more real, enduring and invulnerable than the gray world of Eastern Europe existing behind the Iron Curtain. But on his death a droll mystery is revealed; the fate of the collection is as much a result of the belated awakening of Utz's romantic nature as it is a joke against the political regime he despised. Befitting his narrative, Chatwin's spare, precise prose takes on a surrealist quality appropriate to the theater of the absurd. 40,000 first printing; $35,000 ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Kaspar Utz has two passions in life: fine porcelain and sopranos. Between them he manages to keep the world at bayno mean feat for a resident of Prague living first under Nazi, then Soviet domination. Utz is not your conventional hero, and his heroismif it can be called thatlies in his determination to maintain and expand his collection of antique porcelain figurines no matter what. It is his way of asserting his individuality, of thumbing his nose at the state. For Utz the figurines are almost living creatures, much like Rabbi Loew's legendary Golem. But as Utz himself points out, golems can be dangerous, by their very nature beseeching their own destruction. In spare but elegant prose, Chatwin slowly chips away at Utz's character to reveal its many facets. Intriguing and original; for most public and academic libraries. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersbury, Fla.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Bruce Chatwin reinvented British travel writing with his first book, In Patagonia, and followed it with many travel books and novels, each unique and extraordinary. He died in 1989.

Customer Reviews

A truly beautiful work of art.
Robert Bezimienny
During WW II he moved his collection in time from Dresden to the cellars of the ancestral mansion.
Amazon Customer
I suspect that Chatwin’s other novels are at least as much fun as this one.
Jeffrey Leach

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By cortright_mcmeel@cargill.com on January 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This sparsely told, yet powerful, novel chronicles one man's obsession with porcelain objet d'art with the backdrop of Communist Czechoslovakia and the mystical city of Prague, home of Kafka, the Golem, Jan Hus, and other passive aggressive resisters. The tale weaves the history of the city, Utz's attempt to hide his art collection from the Communists, and the very mystery which binds all collector's together in their minute passion for particular artifacts. Chatwin, who was a kid prodigy at Sotheby's appraising fine art at the precocious age of 20, know the obssessivess which plagues and elevates the collector's heart, and this knowledge is plainly and lucidly displayed in his tale. To put it bluntly, this book is a small gem and quite worth collecting, as well as being the author's masterpiece.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert Bezimienny on September 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
In 'Utz' Chatwin has created an object that tempts yet resists definitive analysis. It resembles, in effect, a piece of the Meissen porcelain which is central to its concerns. At once exquisitely wrought, yet appealing to coarser interests, it is a paradoxical synthesis of the refined and the grotesque.
*
It is, in a sense, a piece of travel writing - the travel is not merely geographical, but also through time and through the life of the eponymous protagonist. The minor characters are sparkling caricatures, Chatwin's gleaming words fashioning figures as charming, and as repulsive, as the variously described Meissen figurines. The narrator asks himself, and implicitly asks us too, how much and how little we see and learn of all of this, and how much we invent in our need to make the narrative, and perhaps the world with its baffling cast of beings, coherent and meaningful.
*
Chatwin's prose possesses grace and clarity. It supports a multitude of learned references effortlessly. The tone has hints of the great European classics, even 'The Magic Mountain' (this being Utz's intended reading on his first venture away from Communist Czechoslovakia), but remains light and readable. Yet this supple style allows Chatwin to speculate over the length of Utz's virile member, and over his fetish for gargantuan divas. It ranges easily from the personal to the political. The style itself is a worthy object for a fetishist, and in its precision and erudition suggests that the author himself finds words his fetish.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on December 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
Bruce Chatwin was dying in the late 1980s of a mystery disease, he claimed originating from a rare Chinese fungus. It was subsequently confirmed to be AIDS. Utz emerged out of these inauspicious circumstances. Chatwin explained the thinking behind Utz in a letter to his friend, Cary Welch, whilst confined to his bed due to ill health: 'I had thought I'd use the time to read and re-read all the great Russian novels. Instead, hardly able to hold a pen, I launched forth on my story: A tale of Marxist Czechoslovakia conceived in the spirit and style or the Rococo'.

As ever, Chatwin could sum up the spirit of his own novels in a few words better than anyone else. But while Utz is certainly ornate, it is not florid and insubstantial like much of the art that the term Rococo is applied to. Utz is a porcelain collector who collects under the shadow of Communist repression which prohibits private ownership of property. The story is said to be based on Chatwin's encounter with Dr Rudolph Just, a businessman and passionate collecter of glass, silver and Meissen who married his housekeeper.

The story is ostentiably about the collection of porcelain as an escape from political repression. But within its few pages, the novel explores a great many more themes. Great art as a beacon of hope, the survival of the characters of Old Europe - resolutely immune to political indoctrination, as manifested in the character of Marta, Utz'z housekeeper whom he marries towareds the end of the novel, the Jewish dimension (Utz is partly Jewish) - the notion of collecting as a subversive activity, worshipping idols over God. The pretty little figurines in Utz seem to take over a life of their own as they become imbued with the worries and burdens of the characters. And as a backdrop to all of this, Chatwin penetrates deep into the spirit of Communist Prague better than almost any other novelist who has tried.

A gem of a novel.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The plot is set in the bleak atmosphere of the communist Czechoslovakia, and is with apparent enjoyment larded with little details of everyday life in as well as some phenomena of the totalitarian country: Tatras 603 and orange garbage trucks with revolving orange lights cruise through the street of Prague; the reluctant and muscular cleaning women dominate the public space, feared and obeyed by everyone; the dining-rooms of Prague hotels smell of disinfectant and accommodate either East German and Soviet computer experts or English intellectual `dissident watchers'; funerals, as a kind of a Christian ritual, have to be over by 8:30; photos of Comrade Novotný hang in all public places and microphones are installed in the walls of private apartments by the secret police. Although those details are used to illustrate the bleakness of the life in the communist Czechoslovakia, I could not help feeling that they are actually enjoyed by the outsider, not unsimilar to the enjoyment of a tourist in a backward country, although different. The narrator is frankly fascinated by the paradoxes of the regime and the lives of the people. Utz's statement that "luxury can only be enjoyed under adverse conditions" echoes throughout the book. The people are actually immune to the communist doctrines and live intellectually rich lives in company of their friends. "Where else would one find a tram-ticket salesman who was a scholar of the Elizabethan stage? Or a street sweeper who had written a philosophical commentary on the Anaximander Fragment?" "...the true heroes of this impossible situation were people who wouldn't raise a murmur against the Party or State - yet who seemed to carry the sum of Western Civilisation in their heads. With their silence they inflict a final insult on the State, by pretending it does not exist" This exactly seems to be the case of Utz. ...
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