I’m a Czech Writer But I Don’t Write in Czech


During the Book World Prague book fair, the majestic environment of the Lapidarium was transformed into a prestigious stage for holding various literary debates. As the Friday afternoon drew to a close, the venue hosted several Czech writers who write their works either exclusively or occasionally in a language other than Czech. A large audience welcomed the writer and translator Patrik Ouředník, who writes some of his texts in French, and a representative of the youngest generation of writers, Jaroslav Kalfař, who has settled in New York and wrote his first published book in American English. The debate was also attended by Jan Faktor, who moved to the then East Germany over forty years ago and has lived in Germany ever since. According to his assessment of his own linguistic competence, he now must write in German, because he has missed many of the developmental nuances of the Czech language and might inadvertently use an inappropriate word or phrase. It is essential for writers to have the feel of language in its everyday existence.

To the first provocative question, whether they see themselves as Czech writers, all the authors answered in the affirmative. The content of their works reflects in one way or another on the Czech environment, which qualifies them as Czech writers. And who or what, after all, decides to which national literature a multilingual author or author writing in another language belongs? Jaroslav Kalfař believes it is ultimately the author's own feeling. So why do some authors choose to write in a language other than their mother tongue? This can have various reasons. Besides the already mentioned falling out of pace with the organic development of a language it can also be the need to adapt to the audience for which the texts are intended. At least that was Jan Faktor's explanation. Patrik Ouředník mused over an interesting feeling that writing in a foreign language enables him to take a look at his native language from the outside, thereby enjoying a little distance, which enables him to transform the way of thinking according to the language of choice.

Authors who are consistently bilingual often resort to the interesting phenomenon of auto-translation. One such example is Samuel Beckett who wrote in both English and French and also translated his own works to his other active language. Auto-translation results in the creation of a work of literature with two full-fledged originals.