Emil Hakl: Of Kids and Parents – O rodičích a dětech (2002)

Of Kids and Parents

I have Stu of Winstonsdad’s Blog to thank for bringing this little gem to my attention. Since he’s hosting an Eastern European Literature Month this March, I thought it was fitting to choose Hakl’s novel as my first contribution.

Emil Hakl is a Czech writer who has published poetry, short stories and novels. His novel Of Kids and Parents won prizes and was even made into a movie called Of Parents and Children.

A forty-year-old son and his seventy-year-old father spend an afternoon and evening walking through Prague, stopping at different pubs and bars, drinking heavily, and talking about everything. There is nothing these two men don’t find worthy as a topic of conversation. Air plane types, nasty drinks, WWII, women, ambition, history, trees, cooking . . . They exchange stories of their lives, tell each other anecdotes, reminisce, quarrel about who knows more about something, who has the better taste. The language is hefty, the way they talk very open. After only a couple of pages two very distinct characters come alive. And we feel we are there with them, downing one juniper brandy after the other, mocking other patrons, and living an intense moment of authentic communication.

We learn a lot about these two men. The stories of their lives, how they were marked by their times, what they think about current politics. They don’t always see eye to eye with each other. The father often interrupts the son to add some piece of information. The son gets upset because the father’s too loud, too unselfconscious. Nonetheless they are always attentive and genuinely interested in each other. They know each other’s tastes and foibles and they care about each other.

While we follow them on their walk, we get introduced to a Prague that’s far from the Prague a tourist would see. They don’t walk down big streets lined by Jugendstil houses, but down alleys that reek of piss and whose recent industrial buildings are already in decay.

Both characters think of themselves as ordinary but the way they talk, the way they see things, and the intensity of their interest in everything and everyone makes these two men far from ordinary.

Here are a few samples.

“So, what’s new?” I asked

“Nothing’s been new in this world for more than two billion years, it’s all just variations on the same theme of carbon, hydrogen, helium, nitrogen,” Father said.

 

“I’ve been saying to myself for a long time now that one of the few dignified forms of employment in this world is to be a hired killer, too bad I didn’t take it up when I was young,” Father said, “I don’t mean in relation to this lot, a hired killer has to be free of all emotions and that’s what’s nice about it . . . You sure don’t want any chicken?”

 

“I remember it like it happened the day before yesterday because it was the first time I’d seen real tanks. What a rush! The motors roared, smoke hung above the woods, the tanks rumpled along one after another, and still there was no end to them! And we stood until the afternoon. Granddad shook his fist at the but I waved at them, secretly so he couldn’t see it . . . . I remember one tiny officer with a moustache and one of those broad flat caps of theirs who kept looking round at us from an armoured car and he just couldn’t get it: grandfather threatening, little boy waving . . . “

 

While reading this I was wondering if there are similar books out there from a mother/daughter point of view. I’d be glad for any suggestions/recommendations. It would be interesting to see how they compare in terms of topics, setting etc.

As I said, I’m really grateful Stu suggested this book. I loved every moment of it. It’s so rich, intense, and full of life. But also highly intelligent and lucid. It says a lot about being human and getting older. About history and how it repeats itself again and again. And about the humans who think they are the crown of creation while they are not. And I shouldn’t forget to mention that, at times, it’s a very funny book.

24 thoughts on “Emil Hakl: Of Kids and Parents – O rodičích a dětech (2002)

  1. Thanks Caroline I hadn’t heard of this one but it does sound good. Can’t think off hand of any similar mother-daughter books, but I’ll pop back if any comer to mind.

  2. During the Reign of the Queen of Sheba: Joan Chase is under my mother-daughter category. Nowhere near the same content as your book review, but highly recommended anyway.

  3. This sounds wonderful. It’s not easy to write a book that focuses on so few characters and so short a time span. Prague is one of my favorite cities, too, so I’ll have to check it out.

    • It’s a really great book. I hope to read more of him some day. It’s like a long dialogue but so rich and with just the right details to set the scene.
      I’m glad to find another Prague enthusiast. I vistied Prague a few times and have seen both sides. The beautiful and the rather bleak.

  4. This does sound good – onto the TBR pile it goes!

    It’s strange, but I would have thought a mother/daughter book along the same lines would be more common.

  5. I love Prague, but I think I’d like this book wherever it was set.
    The only mother-daughter book I can think of is Anna Quindlen’s One True Thing, but this book sounds much better, in my opinion.

    • It would be just as good set in another Czech ciy but I guess, setting it in his home town made it so authentic.
      It’s a very complex book but stil so entertaining. I found it very unusual and would love to see a book like this with a mother/daughter – without them going shopping or to a beauty parlor.
      I’ve only read one Anna Quindlen. I’ll have to have a look.

  6. One thing that is marvelous about literature and life is just how much insight and meaning we can get out of simple, seemingly commonplace interactions between people. As time goes by I am appreciating this aspect to fiction more and more.

    Your question about mother – daughter books is a good one. I am also curious as to what recamendations folks make.

    • I hope someoe will recommend something. I have doubts though.
      This bok captures the magic of real connection and communication. It deosn’t even matter that they don’t agree. What matters is the interest and that they are willing to listen and share. I liked it so much.

  7. Beautiful review, Caroline. I so want to read this! The movie would be fantastic too, I think. My favourite sentences from your review were this – “living an intense moment of authentic communication” – and this – “And about the humans who think they are the crown of creation while they are not”. I liked all the passages that you quoted – the first one made me smile. I would love to read the mother and daughter book too. I think in some ways it would be better than the father-son book🙂 So, I will keep an eagle eye on the comments here🙂

    • Thanks, Vishy. I’m certainy you would like it. It has so many great moments. It was easy to pick quotes.
      It’s rare that characters feel so real.
      I’ll have to see if I can find anything else he wrote.
      I’m still waiting for other-daughter suggestions. I’ve got a similar book by a German author, but it’s about a man and a woman who meet on a train. A bit like the movie Before Sunrise.

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  9. I used to avoid books about aging or about older people (there is youth for you!), but now I am quite comfortable with stories like this. I would, too, be interested in the sort of story from a woman’s perspective so will have to check out the other comments. This author’s name sounds familiar, though now I can’t remember where I heard it–maybe I have an older book by him on my own shelves….

    • I thought I knew him at first but I mixed him up with the Austrian author Erich Hackl.
      I would love to read a female take on this but nothing came up. Too bad.
      I think you’d like this.

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