Vratislav Maňák is originally from Stříbro in western Bohemia in the Czech Republic. For his debut short story collection Šaty z igelitu he was awared the 2012 Jiří Orten Prize. His most recent novel Rubikova kostka was one of three Czech prose works shortlisted for the 2017 European Union Prize for Literature. Maňák is also an acclaimed children’s writer, having been nominated for a Magnesia Litera prize in 2015 for Muž z hodin. He works for the broadcaster Česká televize and teaches journalism at Charles University in Prague.
How has reading translated literature shaped your view of the world?
Quite fundamentally. For me as a person, translated literature depicts the world and human mentality in its true breadth. For me as an author, it also offers paths along which to travel. It is of course possible to find themes and stylistic inspiration within the Czech Republic, but more often than not they lie beyond the borders of the country.
What of your work do you feel would translate best for an English-speaking, non-European audience? Why?
You want to know which of my children is my favorite – and which I praise above the others. But each one is different. Šaty z igelitu tells of human loneliness, and that’s something universal. Rubikova kostka scrutinises Central Europe and its problems with history and memory. My fairytale allegory O Nebesáři is something for readers of Andersen and Wilde, readers of global classics. It’s difficult to choose.
As one of the younger writers featured on Underpass, what new perspectives, if any, do you think your generation beings to the world of Czech literature?
I’m not a fan of generalizations, every generation is first and foremost composed of distinctive individuals. But it’s true that we have been a part of the free world for the last 30 years and that the shiny surface of capitalism and liberal democracy has lost its luster in the eyes of just about every Czech. So what is “new” might be the images of moral disquiet and the renewed sensitivity towards social unrest.
Very little Czech writing has been translated into English. Who are some lesser known contemporary writers that you would like to see gain a broader audience?
As far as poets are concerned, I would suggest Jan Škrob and his mystical lamentation Darknet, which combines spirituality with anger and youthful disenchantment. In the world of prose, I can’t fail to mention Marek Šindelka, whose book Mapa Anny uses refined language to record the mental clutter and confusion of the younger generation.