- Paperback: 508 pages
- Publisher: CATBIRD PRESS; 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: 613,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
CITY SISTER SILVER Paperback – 14 Mar 2001
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"Topol is already being hailed as the supernova of post-1989 Czech fiction." --Randall Lyman, "San Francisco Bay Guardian"
About the Author
Jachym Topol is a novelist, poet, and journalist. His first book of poetry won the Tom Stoppard Prize for Unofficial Literature. Alex Zucker lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
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.
author of "L is for Lion: an italian bronx butch freedom memoir" SUNY Press
and "Schistsong" BORDIGHERA Press
L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir (SUNY series in Italian/American Culture)
Schistsong (Via Folios)
Carry My Coffee (Live)
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.