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The Devil's Workshop Paperback – 6 Jun 2013

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (6 Jun. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846274176
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846274176
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 12.6 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 662,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

Topol is seen by critics and readers as the definitive writer of the post-Communism era in Prague, as a voice of transition from Marx to market - Boyd Tonkin, "Independent"

Topol writes sincerely, passionately - Cees Nooteboom --Independent

The Devil's Workshop touches on a rawer nerve. Topol's critique of the Holocaust Industry is, intellectually at least, his most sophisticated. Zucker, who translated The Devil's Workshop, does a remarkably fine job of conveying Topol s idiosyncratic slang and suggestions of dialect without resorting to affectation. Zucker has brought both sides of Topol, his irony and his sincerity, to us intact. --Quarterly Conversation

Humour so treacly black it almost chokes you. --Guardian

Horrible, repelling, unusual, and very very good ... Throughout The Devil's Workshop Topol doesn t put a foot wrong. The timing is brilliant, the deadpan narration takes us from horror to kitsch and back again, a little bit of black comedy and zeitgeist commentary along the way, a whiff of the fantastic even though the subject couldn't be more real. Here he has created something very original, whilst also managing to make the horrors of history relevant to the present day. --Bookmunch

Tautly written, pacey and provocative. Shifting from comic to tragic and back again at the turn of a page, The Devil's Workshop is an accomplished and highly assured novel from a writer going from strength to strength and fully deserving of his growing reputation. --New Internationalist

Blending fact and fiction, Topol's darkly comic novel, lucidly translated by Alex Zucker, is a hard-hitting exploration of two nations bedevilled by past horrors. --Independent

'The Devil's Workshop is full of Gothic horror that frightens you to your senses and makes you pay attention to history and its very real scars' --Irish Times

About the Author

JACHYM TOPOL is an award-winning writer who was famous in his youth as an underground poet, songwriter and journalist, and now for writing books that have most successfully and imaginatively captured the dislocation brought about by the fall of Communism. His novels include Gargling with Tar (Portobello, 2010), and Nightworks (forthcoming). The Devil's Workshop won the 2013 English PEN Award for Writing in Translation.


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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
This novel by Czech writer Jáchym Topol is a dark satire which asks troubling questions on what we should remember and what we should forget.

The unnamed narrator grows up in Terezín, a town which houses a Medieval fortress and a former Nazi prison. His father is a military bandsman, his mother a survivor of the prison, as are most of the people of the town. The narrator grows up, in a mockery of a pastoral idyll, herding goats on the fortifications, scrabbling in underground tunnels for Nazi memorabilia and failing to live up to his father's ambitions before he is forced to leave.

Years later he returns to Terezín. The army has left and the authorities no longer want to maintain the town. His "uncle", Lebo, born in the Nazi prison, is determined that nothing should be lost. They begin a protest movement which draws international attention - and lucrative opportunities as they sell souvenir T-shirts and accommodate visitors and obtain funding from philanthropists worldwide. Then political upheaval means the narrator has to leave for Belarus where the book takes a darker turn.

The narrator has a sly naivety. He recounts events as he experiences them, stripped of context. This can make it difficult at times to follow events. There is an afterword by the translator which fills in some of the gaps but I think he was right to put it at the end. It means that like the narrator, the reader experiences conflict and instability as most people do when they are at the heart of them -seeing details, specifics, without a coherent narrative, which is only imposed later, and somehow make whatever occurred seem inevitable.

The narrator has no sense of history, only of a home.
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Format: Paperback
Am not impressed by this short, bleak novel situated during WW II and in 2008 in the Czech republic (part 1) and Belarus (part 2), but with plenty of flashbacks. Its starting point is promising: why do so many second and third generation Holocaust survivors visit the sites of mass murder? Is it about how the West and East remember their WW II dead: with monuments, plaques, beautifully maintained graveyards, annual remembrance days and ceremonies, but rarely anything special for Jews? Is that why so many young people are drawn to Terezin aka Theresienstadt, an ancient bulwarked garrison town with a Nazi camp and railhead for transports eastward? How will they appreciate this novel?
It is not brilliantly composed or written. Its characters are not well drawn or riveting. The nameless narrator admits early on that he served time for killing his own father and helped the sole Czech executioner calm down men facing death by hanging, earning him early release and return to his origins, Terezin and its subterraneous warrens and tunnels. As a child, he gave Lebo, a man miraculously born in and surviving the camp, whatever he found underground. Released, he serves him as internet fundraiser and campaign manager helping Lebo become a Holocaust guru attracting ever more tourists whilst local authorities are keen to shut down every memory of WW II: Terezin was becoming a game park.
The much weaker part 2, about what happens next in Belarus, is for readers to discover. Find it not in good taste. Topol’s novel is short, engaging and lively, eventful even. His arguing about what constitutes the East (and West) is perhaps new. His reflections about totalitarianism and genocide are not always original. The author’s own and his translator’s afterword are helpful for some to make further sense of this book. Nonetheless, what is the point Topol tries to make?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fact, Goat,s cleared Glass Land. Around the Terezin, Red Fortress. Not Allowing Any Enemy Attacker. Any Cover. Harsh, but Enjoyable Read. Executing Assistant, Underground Passages. The Fall of Terezin. Even the Goat Number,s Decrease. Second Part of Book. Set in the Killing Field,s of Belarus. Even if You Did Not Know, Who Killed Who. Translator,s Final Passage. Very Informative. Will Not Be the Last Jachym Topol Book. In My Hands.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book 20 Dec. 2013
By Captain Hook (Sam) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very interesting - deep and rich work of art by one of the Czech Republic's most interesting authors translated by Alex Zucker
4.0 out of 5 stars Heritage hell 18 April 2015
By Kate Vane - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This novel by Czech writer Jáchym Topol is a dark satire which asks troubling questions on what we should remember and what we should forget.

The unnamed narrator grows up in Terezín, a town which houses a Medieval fortress and a former Nazi prison. His father is a military bandsman, his mother a survivor of the prison, as are most of the people of the town. The narrator grows up, in a mockery of a pastoral idyll, herding goats on the fortifications, scrabbling in underground tunnels for Nazi memorabilia and failing to live up to his father's ambitions before he is forced to leave.

Years later he returns to Terezín. The army has left and the authorities no longer want to maintain the town. His "uncle", Lebo, born in the Nazi prison, is determined that nothing should be lost. They begin a protest movement which draws international attention - and lucrative opportunities as they sell souvenir T-shirts and accommodate visitors and obtain funding from philanthropists worldwide. Then political upheaval means the narrator has to leave for Belarus where the book takes a darker turn.

The narrator has a sly naivety. He recounts events as he experiences them, stripped of context. This can make it difficult at times to follow events. There is an afterword by the translator which fills in some of the gaps but I think he was right to put it at the end. It means that like the narrator, the reader experiences conflict and instability as most people do when they are at the heart of them -seeing details, specifics, without a coherent narrative, which is only imposed later, and somehow make whatever occurred seem inevitable.

The narrator has no sense of history, only of a home. He accepts the world as he finds it and makes the best of the opportunities he sees. In contrast, Terezín attracts what he calls the "bunk seekers". They are distinct from the casual sightseers who take photos and walk the heritage trail. They are western descendants of Holocaust survivors who believe they have a personal interest in the town's story. They look for meaning in the prison camp, something to give them an identity.

The book's humour lies in the way it overturns assumptions. Sara, a bunk seeker from Sweden, berates the narrator. She, not he, is the one that truly suffers the legacy of Terezín. His complexes only arise because of what he's lived through. Hers are a product of her unique personality.

The simple language of the book contrasts with the complexity of the ideas as the story turns in on itself. How is the past commodified, and for whose benefit? If you don't know your history, does it still shape you? Does it even make sense to call it "yours"?

This book is dark, unsettling and raises lots of questions. It also resolutely refuses to provide any answers.
-
This review first appeared on TNBBC's blog at http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/kate-reviews-devils-workshop.html
2.0 out of 5 stars Satire? Neo-Gothic? 28 Dec. 2015
By Alfred J. Kwak - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Am not impressed by this short, bleak novel situated during WW II and in 2008 in the Czech republic (part 1) and Belarus (part 2), but with plenty of flashbacks. Its starting point is promising: why do so many second and third generation Holocaust survivors visit the sites of mass murder? Is it about how the West and East remember their WW II dead: with monuments, plaques, beautifully maintained graveyards, annual remembrance days and ceremonies, but rarely anything special for Jews? Is that why so many young people are drawn to Terezin aka Theresienstadt, an ancient bulwarked garrison town with a Nazi camp and railhead for transports eastward? How will they appreciate this novel?
It is not brilliantly composed or written. Its characters are not well drawn or riveting. The nameless narrator admits early on that he served time for killing his own father, and helped the Czech executioner calm down men facing death by hanging, earning him early release and return to his origins, Terezin and its subterraneous warrens and tunnels. As a child, he gave Lebo, a man miraculously born in and surviving the camp, whatever he found underground. Released, he serves him as internet fundraiser and campaign manager helping Lebo become a Holocaust guru attracting ever more tourists whilst local authorities are keen to shut down every memory of WW II: Terezin had become a game park.
The much weaker part 2, about what happens next in Belarus, is for readers to discover. Find it not in good taste.
Topol’s novel is short, engaging and lively, eventful even. His arguing about what constitutes the East (and West) is perhaps new. His reflections about totalitarianism and genocide are not always original. The author’s own and his translator’s afterword are helpful for some to make further sense of this book. Nonetheless, what is the point Topol tries to make?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In-depth review: lest who forgets? 19 Aug. 2013
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jáchym Topol deserves your attention. Through a punk-inspired, postmodern energy erupting from his Czech homeland against its oppressors, he conveys verve, intellect, and, beneath the trot of his clipped or galloping prose, tenderness: if in Central European precedent rationed out to each according to his or her own needs. From a dissident family, a poet and a reporter for a samizdat newspaper, he helped his nation topple totalitarianism, finally doing so in 1989 by the gentle but insistent Velvet Revolution.

Topol's debut fiction conjured up diabolical vignettes memorably. Out of five hundred pages of closely printed, dreamlike, and dense scenes, Mr. Novak and his heap of bones at Auschwitz loomed largest in his hallucinatory, bewildering 1994 trilogy City Sister Silver--translated ably by Alex Zucker in 2000. (Reviewed here 6-13-03.) Even in the original language, that first novel confounded native speakers with its disjointed assault.

Topol returns to English audiences for his fifth novel (it appeared in Czech in 2009), with his much more matter-of-fact, unnamed narrator's voice channeled again through his Brooklyn translator, who captures Topol's conversational, insistent tone intimately. Zucker dedicates the work to the author, "my brother from another mother".

This short novel extends Topol's political direction adroitly, and more calmly. It starts in the teller's native town of historic Terezín. Under the Nazis, this became the "city for the Jews"-- to show off their supposedly humane treatment to the Red Cross. After Soviet "liberation", Lebo, himself born in the imposing camp just prior to its downfall, survives as its guardian, to protect the humbler garrison town against obliteration by the post-Soviet government, who compromises by preserving only the camp. Lebo and those who've grown up there, many children of the camp survivors, rally. "Lebo didn't want to see Terezín reduced to a Monument and a few educational trails. None of us wanted that."

A commune rises, a loose camp of its own. (As Zucker notes in an afterword, this anticipates Occupy and other movements: he translated this in the fall of 2011 in New York City.) This attracts "bunk seekers", the second and third generations who search in the camps and bleak villages for traces of their forebears who had outlasted the genocide, or more often, that vastly larger contingent: those who had died. Haunted, their descendants must ask: "If it happened here, can it happen again?"

In The Devil's Workshop, the narrator does not play the role of a tour guide. This may stem from the familiarity of this site to Czechs; it may deepen the detached nature of the narrator's recollections about refusing to play to sentiment, as well as Topol's preference for efficient, even dry, reporting rather than effusions.

Some sober pilgrims, descendants of the Czech patriots and Jewish masses kept and killed there, turn communal dwellers. "They knew they weren't in a medieval castle, but in an abyss where the world had been torn apart, a place without mercy or compassion, where anything was possible."

The narrator--back from prison--and his comrades aid Lebo by appealing to the conscience or the bank accounts of the wealthy to sustain Terezín. They amass valuable contacts. For a while, this grassroots experiment in self-sufficiency flourishes: goods are sold to tourists and ingenuity brings in cash. Sara designs a popular t-shirt, altering a certain Czech writer's image with a gallows and a stencil. "Theresienstadt: If Franz Kafka hadn't died, they would have killed him here." (This is as lighthearted as the suitably titled The Devil's Workshop gets.) By such enterprise, and by restoring the mentally ill and recuperating the bunk seekers, the modest commune succeeds.

But, its commitment cannot fend off the jealousy of bureaucrats. Scandals around Lebo are concocted by an envious press. The narrator flees, soon after meeting an older arrival at the campsite: Alex from Belarus, often called Europe's last dictatorship. Alex wants to turn the clout of Terezín's online support network against the despots of his own post-Soviet homeland, still fighting amongst itself.

Sneaking away as Terezín succumbs to "cops and doctors all over the place on account of a couple of grannies" (shades of Occupy), the narrator escapes via Prague and flies to Minsk. There, Belarusians clash as the president declares martial law. In Khatyn, Alex, leading a team of seekers more feral and less coddled than those who could afford to frequent Terezín, unearths catacombs packed with corpses. Matuska, who had ferried the narrator to safety across borders, urges him to do the math.

Stalin's henchmen murdered ninety percent of her nation's intellectuals. Czechoslovakia and Belarus have equal populations, but over ten times as many of the latter people were killed by the Nazis--and their Russian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian collaborators. Alex informs the narrator: "The devil had his workshop here in Belarus. The deepest graves are in Belarus. But nobody knows about them. That's why you're here." Publicity and donors will enable Khatyn to outdraw tourists to Auschwitz.

The battle over who controls the remains of four million Belarusians, what such numbers mean to a divided and shamed country where some assisted and some resisted, and who grabs their share of the tourist trade and international assistance elicits Topol's understated but firm pressure as he explores a touchy subject. This is one subject that all Belarus can agree on, and besides the income, this may achieve what a wounded nation needs for the living: the ability to finally let the dead rest in peace.

But first, their stories must be recorded, lest we forget. Topol dramatizes this in the latter half of the novel. Under the determined vision of Kagan, who as a boy made it through the ghetto and the mass grave, and Alex and their team of excavators in a land where all are bunk seekers, we see the results. Alex constructs what will be a museum unlike any other, out of a "Jurassic Park of horror".

I leave the reader to uncover the resolution. Topol integrates real accounts of barbarity skillfully into the quick snatches of testimony, and to his credit for this difficult theme, he does not revel in the re-creation of suffering. Yet, this novel proves grim. The narrator stays fresh in Zucker's translation through his everyday language and Everyman persona. But he must scurry about the settings the author designs for him as if fated. Topol turns an approachable character into a portentous archetype.

As with his debut fiction, Topol wants to merge ideas and symbols into his perspective on the current Central and Eastern European predicament, dealing with the aftermath of of pain and deprivation. In a literary tale as short as this, while the results are more accessible for first time readers of his work, the meanings threaten to loom too large for it to carry. As the narrator finds: "soldiers come into the village and kill, houses and people burn--repeating over and over" the terrible stories then and now.
3.0 out of 5 stars Concentration camps as tourist venues? 20 July 2014
By TonyMess - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As we know, the world of translated book prizes contains a hefty amount of World War Two fiction, therefore it is no surprise to see this work feature on the longlist for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award. Is it worthy of making the list for the writing, not the subject matter alone?

Welcome to a bleak place, yes a very bleak place. “Terezin, an eighteenth-century fortress town north of Prague that the Gestapo used as a prison and ghetto for Jews in the Second World War.” Our nameless protagonist was brought up in Terezin, his “father” a major in the army, his mother rescued from the mass graves – “my mum never went outside, she needed a room’s edges and corners behind her back, just a tiny space to breathe in was enough.” Just like our small novel, a tiny place where you can hardly breathe, but it’s just enough. We follow our nameless anti-hero as he herds goats, retrieves mementos from the catacombs, is shipped off to prison, and as a loner becomes the escort for the prisoners on death row as they walk to their execution.

The prison directors were amazed that when I walked with the prisoners, they didn’t whimper, didn’t scream wordlessly like animals, didn’t struggle. They were calm and quiet, I suppose because I was calm. My head, my mind, my legs were used to the twists and turns of Terezin’s tunnels, the gloom and concrete of the cells and bunkers, the iron of the bars, so nothing in my body or mind rebelled against the rooms of death, and I didn’t vomit, or pray under my breath, or have nightmares, or break down in tears afterwards, which, I was told, often happened to the jailers who were paid to escort the condemned to their end.

Upon release he returns to Terezin, he needs a place to live, tees up with Lebo, who was born in the concentration camp, all to save the town. And how? Turn it into a living museum, tell the stories of the atrocities to the young eager children that arrive with mum and dad’s credit cards.

For my full review go to http://messybooker.blogspot.com.au/
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