Czech Writers in World Literature
They are up there alongside the world's greatest literary stars. Each of them wrote in a different era, about different topics, yet they all have one thing in common. They were all from Czechia. Jaroslav Hašek, Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, Karel Čapek. All of these, and many others, have left behind an enormous body of work, translated into dozens of languages around the world. Join us in following in their footsteps.

100 years since the death of Franz Kafka

The anniversary of Franz Kafka is approaching (3 July 1883 - 3 June 1924), so we’ll start with him. His books Amerika, The Trial, The Castle and the short story The Metamorphosis are some of the most treasured works in world literature. Kafka's tales breathe life into Prague's Jewish ghetto, Malá Strana and Prague Castle. Kafka came from Prague, from a German-speaking Jewish community.

He spent most of his life in Prague’s Old Town. The house the family lived in, U věže, stood on the corner of Maiselova and Kaprova ulice. All that remains is the original stone portal, which now bears a memorial plaque. Kafka's family lived for a while in the charming U minuty house with its sgraffito decoration, very close to the Old Town Hall. For the future writer it was just a short walk to the German Gymnasium in the Kinský Palace, now home to the National Gallery. You can also visit Kafka Bookshop and the Franz Kafka Museum. The aptly chosen statue near the Jewish Quarter is also dedicated to this Prague-born writer.

Karel and Josef Čapek, the men who coined the word robot

One wrote books and plays, the other was mainly a painter, but both were up there among the Czech cultural elite. Brothers Karel and Josef Čapek (9 January 1890 - 25 December 1938, 23 March 1887 - April 1945) left their mark in the mountain resort of Špindlerův Mlýn as well as in Hradec Králové, a student city packed with valuable architecture. In Prague, they stayed in a semi-detached villa in the middle of a quiet neighbourhood in Vinohrady. The semi-detached house is one of the finest buildings in Prague, not to mention the whole of Czechia.

Karel wrote The White Disease, Krakatit, R.U.R. and a charming little book for children: Dashenka, or the Life of a Puppy. Josef's paintings can be seen in the collections of the National Gallery. They made a new addition to the world language, and you may not know this yourself, with the word ROBOT. Most people think that Karel invented it for his book R.U.R. But that’s not the case. Josef advised his brother to use the word robot when he was asked to suggest a name for the artificial workers.

In the footsteps of palaverer Bohumil Hrabal

His books are loved all over the world and have been made into some amazing films that have gone down as true greats in the history of Czech cinema. If you fancy following in the footsteps of cat lover and good-hearted free-thinker Bohumil Hrabal (28 March 1914 - 3 February 1997), there are two places in particular in Czechia that are well worth visiting. Around Nymburk and in the Libeň district of Prague. Both places are ideal for a relaxing stroll.

In Kersko near Sadská he stayed in his cottage with green shutters. That has recently been renovated and now houses a new exhibition. The place is redolent with the atmosphere of Hrabal's books. The museum staff wanted to preserve the genius loci and make the space look exactly as though the writer himself had just left a few minutes ago. The original fixtures they managed to salvage included cabinets, a mirror, a chest, shelves, a coat rack and small furnishings.
The writer spent his childhood and early adult years in the nearby Postřižinský brewery. If you fancy ending your trip in style, treat yourself to a Postřižinské beer in the local pub.
Hrabal's Prague is concentrated in the Libeň district, around Na Hrázi ulice with its eye-catching memorial wall. It was here that house number 24 stood, which the writer called Na hrázi věčnosti (On the dike of eternity). Hrabal's place can be found right by the exit of the yellow metro line B (Palmovka station). He described life in Libeň in his books Too Loud a Solitude, The Gentle Barbarian and The World Cafeteria.

Our wander in the footsteps of the qualified lawyer continues from Libeň Château to the Palmovka Theatre, or in the opposite direction uphill to the Na Bulovce Hospital, where the writer died at the age of almost eighty-three on 3 February 1997 after falling from a window on the fifth floor of the orthopaedic clinic. His death, which happened as he was feeding the pigeons, is still shrouded in mystery.

And when we’re on the subject of Hrabal, we must not forget the famous beer hall At the Golden Tiger in Husova ulice, right in the historical centre of Prague. He used to be a regular there. It was there that he met US President Bill Clinton, for example.

To Brno in search of Milan Kundera

Milan Kundera
(1 April 1929 - 11 July 2023) is undoubtedly one of the world's most famous Czech-born writers. He spent much of his life in Paris, became a French citizen and considered himself a French writer. His hometown was Brno, the South Moravian metropolis where you can find the Milan Kundera Library. It is located on the first floor of the Moravian Library.

One of the most widely translated Czech writers, a great admirer of the composer Leoš Janáček, he left behind an impressive body of work: The Joke, Immortality or The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The American adaptation of the latter starred Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche.

Hašek's good soldier Švejk

Jaroslav Hašek
(30 April 1883 - 3 January 1923), who is said to have been able to see into the Czech soul and who loved life with all his heart, wrote the legendary book The Fate of the Good Soldier Švejk. You can follow the trail of his life from Světlá nad Sázavou to Lipnice nad Sázavou. Hašek liked to frequent the hangouts bars and dives, where he soaked up the atmosphere and drew inspiration for his tale. The only pub that remembers Hašek, apart from the U České koruny restaurant in Lipnice, which is owned by Hašek's descendants, is the U Muchů pub in Dolní Město. The municipality had it converted into a community centre. In Prague there are several restaurants named after Švejk, as well as Hašek's birthplace at No. 16 Školská ulice. There is a memorial plaque above the entrance.

The Grandmother and Krteček the Mole

Other authors worthy of note include the father of the cartoon Mole, illustrator Zdeněk Miler, contemporary writer Michal Viewegh, Patrik Ouředník, who is much beloved in France, and playwright Pavel Kohout. The most translated Czech female writer is Božena Němcová, who wrote her famous book Babička (The Grandmother) in a house in Ječná ulice in Prague, where the facade of building number 28 is set with a bronze memorial plaque showing a relief portrait of Božena Němcová (right across the street is the beautiful Botanical Garden, which is definitely worth a visit). From the youngest generation, let's mention Bianka Bellová, Kateřina Tučková and Leoš Kyša, a star of fantasy literature, who is devoured by readers under the pseudonym František Kotleta in Poland.