Jachym Topol - Gargling with Tar
Jachym Topol is a leading cultural figure in the Czech Republic and this fourth novel, his first translated into English, is an astute blend of the personal with the political. It’s 1968 in rural Czechoslovakia, and orphan Ilya has his life turned crazy when the nuns who run his orphanage are kicked out by communists. Given military training, he winds up as guide to a Soviet tank column, before flitting from side to side in a messy armed struggle ripe for satire.
Gargling With Tar often has the feel of Catch-22 about it, puncturing the madness of war on all sides, and Ilya is a great character, put upon but sanguine, pragmatic and infinitely likeable. Topol tries too hard at times to hammer home his message (the chaotic Socialist Circus survivors that Ilya repeatedly encounters is a heavy-handed metaphor) but this is a compassionate story with a worthwhile point to make.