- 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: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #439,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Apocryphal Tales Paperback – April 1, 1997
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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.
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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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. Written in April, 1938, it shows a conquering Roman soldier trying to convince Archimedes that he would do well to turn his scientific skills to the construction of weapons of mass destruction. Archimedes refuses and the story ends thusly: "It was later reported that the learned Archimedes had met his death through an accident." This last sentence tracked the official language used in reports issued by totalitarian regimes after it had killed one of its so-called enemies.
The Tales include a series of stories involving the life and death of Jesus, each told from a slightly different perspective. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is told from the point of view of a baker whose primary concern is the impact the miracle will have on the price of his bread. After the crucifixion, two Hebrew locals debate the error of Jesus' methods although not his message. In another, Pilate engages in a dialogue with Joseph of Arimathea over the political implications of the crucifixion. Their dialogue on "what is truth" still resonates long after I finished reading it. Èapek also invokes fictional characters, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet in two humorous sagas.
Capek's `would-be' tales are written in a similar style but are written in a contemporary setting. The most compelling of these are the last two, Anonymous Letter and Ten Centavos. In the first, a writer who has produced articles supporting the consumption of cheese is the subject of a hate mail campaign. Ten Centavos involves the horror of an honorable man being publicly besmirched by an avenging state. These stories must surely have had some resonance for Èapek as, as his life neared its end in 1938, he became subject to vicious attacks from some who held him partly responsible for the fate that was about to befall Czechoslovakia.
These are all beautiful stories told in simple narrative form. It has been said of Capek that his deep belief in democracy made him want to present his ideas to be accessible to anyone who could read. I do not know this to be the case but the spirit of Capek's stories shine through readily. These stories would be appreciated by anyone interested in short stories whether or not they have a specific interest in Czech literature. This collection is well worth reading.
Short, easy to read, recognizable, thought-provoking. An introduction to a Czech writer besides Kafka!
Perhaps there is a problem with the translation, as it was suggested by one of the reviewers here.
Or perhaps it's just a question of personal taste. The fact is, I didn't like it. It doesn't seem to have been written with the intent of engaging the reader. It's rather a collection of very short stories - 36 in 175 pages - in which even the humor and the witticism did not convince me.
I would have difficulty in pointing out a single very good story, in my opinion. Some of them I found OK, and some I read without any pleasure.
Well worth reading if you like satire, dry humor, or character -driven stories.
Get a map of Prague to cross-reference the references to streets and addresses mentioned in the stories. It gives a sense of the geography of the world which Čapek and his characters inhabited.
If you need a plug from someone whose curatory prowess is greater than mine, one of these tales was included in the "Home" edition of Lapham's Quarterly. So there's that, too.