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CITY SISTER SILVER Paperback – 14 Mar 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • 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)
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Product description

Review

"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.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars 9 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Complicated 2 Dec. 2014
By M. Deery - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Know what you're taking on when you decide to read this. I bought it because it's one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and it was a challenge. Bone up on the history before you read it and it makes more sense. I ultimately enjoyed it, but it's not for everyone.
5.0 out of 5 stars A cornerstone book to anyone's library and a great read 6 Jun. 2013
By Celise Kalke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a stunning literary achievement and the translation is one of the great works of translation into Engish. A must read to understand the world today. But also a page turner that expands ones imagination while deepening ones quality of thought.
5.0 out of 5 stars Revolutionary Life and Literature 7 Aug. 2014
By Annie Lanzillotto author of L is for Lion - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Awesome book by an important writer -- the youngest to sign the Charter 77 in the Velvet Revolution. Infused with Czeck history and revolution. A meaty book. Keep your eye on Jachym Topol and all he writes. Literary wildcat. You have to go deep to capishe this book. The translation is unusually excellent as the translator has a devotee's passion.

forever,
Annie

Annie Lanzillotto
author of "L is for Lion: an italian bronx butch freedom memoir" SUNY Press
and "Schistsong" BORDIGHERA Press

www.annielanzillotto.com

L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir (SUNY series in Italian/American Culture)
Schistsong (Via Folios)
Blue Pill
Carry My Coffee (Live)
Eleven Recitations
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 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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