The turbulent events of World War II and the subsequent communist regime in Czechoslovakia strongly restricted Czech writers freedom of expression. Many sought and found literary freedom in exile. As Czech literature was developing in two very different locations and conditions, writers on both sides created diverse, yet extraordinarily interesting and commendable works; all were united in their wish to see their homeland liberated from the totalitarian regime. The suffering and generally adverse conditions of those who stayed at home are reflected in the works written both at home and in exile, especially after the two parties found secret ways of communicating between themselves. Many works abound in wit and humour, despite the difficult circumstances. After the fall of communism had brought the desired freedom of expression for all writers, the recent past still occasionally echoes in Czech literary works, but is written and read from new perspectives.
As the dark age now seems to be gradually falling into oblivion, it is important to be reminded that even in the darkest times talented writers were alert to Czech national and literary undertones, and produced works which English-speaking readers would find new, fresh and captivating. While the availability of books in English may be still in a minority, synoptic interpretations of prose writings not yet translated to English provided in this Handbook add integral features that help to complete the picture of life at a time when cultural links between two parts of Europe were painfully severed.
Bohuslava R. Bradbrook was born in Czechoslovakia and educated at the universities of Prague, Innsbruck and Oxford. She lives now in Cambridge, and is the author of Karel Capek: In Pursuit of Truth, Tolerance and Trust (Sussex Academic Press), as well as numerous articles and reviews on Czech literature