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City, Sister, Silver Paperback – 14 Mar 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 508 pages
  • Publisher: Catbird Press,U.S.; 1st English-language Ed edition (14 Mar 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0945774451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0945774457
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 359,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Jachym Topol is the award-winning young writer from Prague, famous in his youth as an underground poet and songwriter, and now for writing the book that has most successfully and imaginatively captured the dislocation brought about by the fall of communlsm. CITY, SISTER, SILVER is a unforgettable literary account of post-communist Prague. Dreams, adventures, hallucinations, myth, memories, and news events interweave to conjure up the young hero's frightening - yet also comic and exhilarating - pilgrimage through the inferno of his country's recent history. Undergoing all sorts of fantastical situations, including a near-journalistic account of the flight of the East Germans in 1989, and a trip to Auschwitz, where he and his friends wade through the bones of the murdered, Potok, the 20 year-old narrator struggles to find his way in the almost post-apocalyptic world he finds himself in.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 May 2002
Format: Paperback
City, Sister, Silver sucks you into its whirlwind world of sex, tribalism, criminality and dodgy dealings right from the first lines and never allows you out of its grip until every word has been read. Beginning in the early years of the 1989 revolution in Czechslovakia, when 'time exploded', we follow Potok, the protagionist, and his gang through their entrepreneurial dealings, violence and a number of trips, some real, most, such as a harrowing visit to a Nazi concentration camp, drug induced. However, ultimately, we follow Potok on his journey to find his 'sister'. The novel was, afterall, titled 'Sister' in the original. He finally finds Cerna, only to lose her again and be reunited in one of the most powerful images I have ever read.
Considering the book was famed for its 'stream of consciousness', heavily colloquial and highly inventive style in the original, it comes across surprisingly well in the translation. At first glance, the language can appear overly slangy, but the ear adjusts soon enough. The book consistently holds up speed and momentum, and remains thoroughly absorbing as Potok literally spews out his words on the page like a stream.
Although at times a little confusing, what makes the book so great is its ability to capture the very essence of the younger generation during the transition; the chaos, the confusion and the uncertainty. Though darker, cruder and more gruesome than works of the Czech nation's previous generation, the book retains an inner beauty the others cannot find. While they were almost guided by a kind of historical determinism, one gets the impression that Topol's characters would be how they were irrespective of the time or country they lived in, and the cure to all their ills, their saviour, comes in the purest form of all: love.
It is most certainly an unforgettable reading experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TERRY BARLOW on 12 Sep 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Though Biased. Love Jachym Topol,s Writing. Have Some Friend,s. Who Found this Hard Going. Have Most of His Book,s. Yes, the Book is Very Dark in Nature. Though there is Humour. The Narration from Auschwitz, Very Funny. Book Travels from Prague, Covering the German,s Leaving. Touch,s on Berlin, Vietnam & Chernobyl. About People who Descend to the Very Depth,s. Though there is Alway,s Hope. Good Story Teller.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Hallucinatory Rendering of Post-Communist Prague 5 April 2000
By Pete Hausler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I just finished this long, dense novel and my head is swimming. Topol is the real deal: a creative, mad genius whose head is bursting with an insane amount of knowledge. One of the themes Topol touches on is how "time exploded" following Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolution, and consequently, the book has an almost post-Apocalyptic feel to it.
The plot follows the narrator, Potok, a twenty-something Prague kid, who forms a "byznys" tribe in the wake of the 40-year communist rule. We then track his odyssey through the dissolution of his tribe; his search for his Sister soul-mate (foretold by an ex-girlfriend); and finally his wanderings in the dreamscape borders of Czechoslovakia, the fringes of Prague, and ultimately, the hinterlands in himself. If the events of the narrative are a bit muddled at times, it doesn't really matter, especially in the chapters that depict Potok's dealings with ex-government spies who re-surface as spooks-for-hire. Topol uses this confusion to mirror a country-wide puzzlement about the re-emergence of former Party apparatchiks into the private sector after the fall of communism.
Despite its episodic feel, City Sister Silver isn't about plot. In essence, this is a story *about* telling stories, and the events of the narrative serve to that end. Topol, a playful mythomaniac and raconteur at heart, embraces the tradition of oral storytelling and the accuracy-flaws inherent in such babel. CSS of the East Germans," when thousands from that country sought asylum in Prague's West German embassy in 1989); Native American history-cum-legend; Old Bohemio-Celtic tribal-war tales; revisionist Greek mythology (a re-imagining of Odysseus and Penelope that has Homer rolling in his grave); mock-American tall-tales; Urban legends (a snuff film); modern cliche's (a prison rape); Grimms' fairy tales; a riff on a fictional comic book; and most unnerving, a chilling Auschwitz dream sequence, replete with a talking-skeleton tour guide and an endless morass of human bones. Someone is always telling a story in CSS, but the tales always entertain and engage; they never seem forced, superfluous or pretentious.
In raving about CSS to various friends, I found myself comparing Topol to a host of different writers, and yet, as in all great literature, this novel remains unique. Topol invokes everyone from fellow Czechs Bohumil Hrabal, Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek, to others such as Celine, Pynchon, Kerouac, Irvine Welsh, Blaise Cendrars, and Anthony Burgess. Every reader will find as many different comparisons (I saw one reviewer liken the novel to the best of Gunther Grass and Salman Rushdie).
One caveat, which is confession by Potok, and at first punctuation seems arbitrary (e.g., Topol is fond of ellipses and the sentence fragment-as-sentence). Like Burgess's Clockwork Orange and Welsh's Trainspotting, it takes a good fifteen or twenty pages to get into the rhythm of the slang, but once you get with it, the book flows like water. Afterall, this is a book about the beauty and elasticity of language, and the tales one can spin using creative language. Finally, I should point out the smooth translation of this novel by Alex Zucker, who took on an obviously gargantuan task, and who rounded out his duties with an engaging translator's preface and insightful and erudite end notes.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
More inferno than paradiso--inside the post-mod dreamworld 20 Jun 2003
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This novel shows you surprisingly little about the postcard Prague; rather, it delves into the mental dregs and physical flinches of a narrator who takes us into his and his friends' hallucinations, nightmares, visions, and haunted tales. Comic book knights, Bohemians in the ancient sense of the word, a curious order of Catholic (?) sisters, Native American legend, trash-heap denizens, a forest journey in the Ruthenian mountains in which our hero and his love stumble into the Warhol(a) Museum, Laotian refugees, tender lovemaking, lots of violence, and most notably an extended visit from Mr. Novak and the field of bones at Auschwitz are among a few of this book's highlights.
It feels like, as reviewers remarked, Clockwork Orange (in its vocative mood, its frequent addresses to its audience, and in its linguistic/philosophical-theological, and urban melanges) meets Trainspotting (drugs galore, incoherence, muddly plotline, and dialects beyond counting). You'll lost track of who's who and what's what, but this may be intentional on Topol's part as he recreates the world of illusions, or my difficulty with a rather alien Central European host of allusions. Sheer love of storytelling doggedly pushes you on. Topol creates his own original novel, and the strange beauty mixed in with endless goings-on that stretch over 500 closely printed pages lull you into an hypnotic state of altered consciousness when you plow on through this daunting text.
Keep going, give in to the flow, and the book will take you in if you're patient. Alex Zucker's introductory notes help non-Czechs gain a rough background for what we can expect, and the fact that the prose moves so well, so densely, and so vividly attests to his and Topol's considerable skills. I predict even better work from their future collaborations. Although it's a difficult book to handle in its Pynchonesque, Joycean ambition, it rewards you with hundreds of vignettes, miniature scenes pulled out of reveries and terrors for our delight and instruction. A more serious book at its core than the punkish surface may let on, the respect for mercy, faith, and humanity beneath the mayhem and alienation reminds us that the search for enduring values persists in the most unlikely fictional and factual terrains. And, like Dante at his quest's end, somehow he sees and does not see his Beatrice again. At least that's my guess. See for yourself. This book marvelously conjures up images from its descriptions, and you too drift through space.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Breakthrough 7 Jun 2009
By E. L. Fay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One book blog described it as "one part Burgess, a little bit of Joyce, mix in some Kerouac." To fellow Amazon reviwer Pete Hausler, it is "everyone from fellow Czechs Bohumil Hrabal, Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek, to others such as Celine, Pynchon, Kerouac, Irvine Welsh, Blaise Cendrars, and Anthony Burgess." To me, Jáchym Topol's 1994 novel "City Sister Silver" is William Burroughs's "Naked Lunch" meets Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," with a tenderness and wide-eyed abandon reminiscent of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." It's the real avant-garde thing: a post-modern punk version of T.S. Eliot's "waste land" that literally ends up among the vast detritus of a newly capitalist Prague. Along the way, it is Dante at the end of the twentieth century: a gradual descent to the lowest level of a country on the edge. How Alex Zucker was able to translate this is beyond me, but then again, I heard "Naked Lunch" has been translated to French, so I guess nothing's impossible.

The blending of formal and conversational language in English has become commonplace in our literature as the boundaries between the "high" and "low" have also blurred and what was pop culture yesterday is legitimate artistic or intellectual expression today (jazz and film noir, for instance). Art does not exist in a vacuum, nor is good taste determined solely by the standards of sages in ivory towers. Although English literature (that is, literature in English) has been reflecting this creative populism for some time now, this was until very recently a radical concept in Czech. According to Zucker's introduction, the original Czech publisher of "City Sister Silver" felt compelled to include a disclaimer stating that Topol's "intent [is] to capture language in its unsystematicness and out-of-jointness." The gulf between literary and spoken Czech is a sizeable one, Zucker explains, and they are bridged by a spectrum of "intermediate levels" for which English has no equivalent (I believe Japanese is similar). "City Sister Silver," however, is about the era in which "time exploded," and Topol's deliberate confusion of grammar, spelling, syntax, and style is actually a linguistic portrayal of the sudden end of one society and the simultaneous beginning of another.

The story is narrated by a young man named Potok as he drifts through a soon-to-be Czech Republic that has just thrown off communism and has yet to re-orient itself. The basic outline of the multilayered, barely-linear plot is this: Potok lives in Prague and is a member of a "byznys" tribe involved in various smuggling and racketeering activities. It consists of his four "pseudodroogs" Bohler, Micka, David, and Sharky. There is also drama involving Laotian refugees. All this time, Potok has also been reminiscing about his ex-girlfriend She-Dog, the stolen moments they had together under the Communist regime, and the prophecy she delivered before she left that Potok would one day have a new "sister." He soon meets Cerná, a despondent singer at a local dive bar. A series of complicated events leaves Potok stranded in a backwater town full "Deliverance"-style hillbillies. After taking off, Potok locates Cerná in the nearby woods. They wander together through ruined towns, wild countryside, and acres of illegal flea markets. Potok eventually winds up drifting along aimlessly until he winds up living among bums in a Prague trash heap, where a monster lurks and tears its victims to shreds. The novel ends in a Prague transformed: skyscrapers gleam and busy people brag of having "no time."

"City Sister Silver" is wildly meandering, but in a good way. Stream-of-consciousness and mythological storytelling predominate. The prose often reads like poetry. Potok tells his pseudodroogs of a drug-induced dream he had in which they were all taken on a tour of an otherworldly Auschwitz. He recalls his time in Berlin as a "Kanak," a member of an international underclass that moved in a parallel universe of drugs, dingy apartments, snuff films, police, and a garbled lingua franca made up of myriad tongues from all over the world. Language and society build upon each other, and Topol's frenzied, chaotic narrative is inseperable from the social anarchy that reigned during and shortly after Czechoslavakia's Velvet Revolution. "City Sister Silver" is also a highly personal, individualized book whose protagonist adds an intensely human element to a tumultuous setting where other characters seem interchangeable, nothing in byznys or politics is certain, and language is up in the air. Potok may not be the most reliable narrator, but he is sympathetic, a romantic, a drinker, and easy to identify with in his ongoing quest for love and a soulmate. (The passage in which he imagines himself and 'erná as a pair of wolves fleeing abuse is one of the most stunningly lyrical pieces of prose I've ever had the pleasure to read.)

Although "City Sister Silver" is full of beautifully-written moments, it also drags at times and the jumbled plot can be more annoying than artistic at times. But Jáchym Topol's groundbreaking novel is highly recommended as both a creative achievement and a window into a culture and a time in history. Reading "City Sister Silver" is also a strongly subjective experience and I am eager to know how others will interpret it and what components of the narrative will stand out to them.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Book of my generation 30 Mar 2000
By A. Bulir - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Great book and nice translation (I read the book in Czech and skimmed through the English version). Topol's book makes a fascinating and thoroughly demanding (disturbing?) reading IF the reader knows a lot about communism, the former Czechoslovakia, Prague, the 1989 Velvet Revolution and years that followed, Jachym Topol himself, and so on. Reader, be warned, unless you have a basic grasp of all this (and preferably more), you will miss the inner meanings of the story and will be left only with Topol's writing. This is not necessarily a bad deal, because Topol's speech-like writing is really great. The story itself has not changed much from the time of Miguel Cervantes: a guy leaves his cozy home, goes through many sufferings, and eventually grows wiser. Only the horrors of the 20th century are more horrible.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Fascination and confusion, frustration and reward 16 July 2009
By Rachel Thern - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Potok, the main character and narrator of City Sister Silver, is an actor in Prague at the time of the fall of communism. He takes the concept of an unreliable narrator to an extreme: more than just unreliable, he is mentally unbalanced and unpredictable. It is impossible while reading to tell which things are actually happening and which are part of Potok's (or sometimes someone else's) imagination. His girlfriend, whom he affectionately calls Little White She-Dog (it must be a nicer thing to say in Czech than the English equivalent) had kept him anchored but she disappears in the first chapter, though not without sending him a psychic message promising that she will send him a "soul sister". He and four of his friends then form a "byznys" tribe, taking part in various illegal activities including fenangling ownership of an apartment building away from its previous owner. Unfortunately, this building is influenced by a sinister well in the basement. When the tribe falls apart, Potok gets in over his head with various groups busy spying on each other's activities. The one thing that keeps him going is his quest to find (and keep) his promised sister.

During the course of the book strange and random plot threads are introduced, left hanging, and sometimes picked up again much later. Even when finished with the book, it would be hard to summarize the arc of the story. The writing is so dense that it actually seems to resist against forward momentum. At the same time, the language and style are often beautiful. Alex Zucker has done a wonderful translation, a job that must have been incredibly difficult. In the end I am thankful I took the effort to read this book. It is a unique experience.
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