The Guinea Pigs
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The Guinea Pigs

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  138 ratings  ·  26 reviews
A clerk at the State Bank begins to notice that something strange is going on— bank employees are stuffing their pockets with money every day, only to have it taken every evening by the security guards who search the employees and confiscate the cash. But, there’s a discrepancy between what is being confiscated and what is being returned to the bank, and our hero is beginn...more
Paperback, 167 pages
Published May 17th 2011 by Open Letter (first published 1968)
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Some writers are able to write about a mundane subject and make it a fascinating study. Mervyn Peake comes to mind for his incredible depiction of a courtship between an aged professor and an elderly, both of them vain and entirely inept at conducting any social encounter, let alone the first steps of budding intimacy. Before reading the dozens of pages devoted to this story (itself a part of the greater novel that is "Gormenghast"), I never would have dreamed that I would be even marginally int...more
Monica Carter
The hardest thing in the world, girls and boys, is to change your life by your own free will. Even if you are absolutely convinced that you're the engineer on your own locomotive, someone else is always going to flip the switch that makes you change tracks, and it's usually someone who knows much less than you do.

Political allegory meet Czech writer Ludvik Vacilik. Ludvik Vaculik meet political allegory. When you're under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia during the 1960s and 1970s and you know...more
Jim Elkins
This is a delightful, whimsical book, with modest humor and unexpected witticisms on every page: and that is why I couldn't finish it. There is a direct correlation between how delighted I was to read the first page -- the density of the jokes, the continuous stream of quirky humor -- and the speed at which my attention and patience fell off. I stopped reading about halfway through.�[return][return]What does I mean when an author depends so heavily on eccentric wit? When there is a compulsion to...more
Translated from the Czech by Kaca Polackova

I began reading The Guinea Pigs amused and entertained by the main character, Vasek, a family man who wishes to get his city-bound family back to nature. Since buying a rural cottage is unrealistic, he instead acquires a guinea pig for his family who live in Prague. Vasek appears to be a firm but doting father, and the first-person narration seemed almost sweet at first, as he narrates the story as if telling a child's bedtime story or guide for the car...more
Lisa Hayden Espenschade
Jun 22, 2011 Lisa Hayden Espenschade rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys dark absurdity
Recommended to Lisa by: Publisher Open Letter -- thank you for the review copy!
3.6 stars

The Guinea Pigs is a wild novel about a Czech bank worker who spends large swaths of his days lining up banknotes in the same direction. At home, his family has guinea pigs; he isn't always very nice to them. Or his kids. I enjoyed Vaculík's use of fairy tale motifs, black humor, and absurdity. And the novel's last sentence.

(There's more about The Guinea Pigs on my blog, here.)
Oct 20, 2012 Alta added it
The Guinea Pigs by Ludvík Vaculík (Trans. from the Czech by Káca Polácková. Open Letter, 2011)

I was familiar with Open Letter’s commitment to translation, but I hadn’t seen their books until recently. I can now state that next to Archipelago Books (another publisher specialized in literature in translation) Open Letter publishes the most beautifully designed books in this country. The covers have a sober elegance that few books have in the current environment in which publishers seem to compete...more
Austin Morgan
Jun 19, 2011 Austin Morgan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literary people
Shelves: first-reads
This is a very sly book. On the surface it appears to be a book about a man trying to figure out his place in the world mostly by comparing and contrasting himself with his relationship with his pets. I don't know that I could read this book enough times to figure out all the symbolism, metaphor and other elements that make a good literary book.

I am honestly glad that I was exposed to The Guinea Pigs. It was a though provoking and good read. Unfortunately I don't think I will pick it up again to...more
"Člověk může být, jak známo, knížetem nebo posledním jeho nevolníkem. V moderním státě pak státním tajemníkem nebo posledním jeho nevoličem. Kým z obého bude spíš, nemusíme si dlouze vykládat. Postavení takového chuďasa na spodním okraji sociální struktury se vyznačuje naprostou bezmocí. Ten, kdo je na konci, je smutný, protože je všem poddán a nikdo není poddán jemu. Má-li však pod sebou jediného tvora, svět se pro něj mění. Sociální struktura se mu zdánlivě rozšiřuje a její okraj se od něho od...more
Nov 08, 2011 Daisy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Daisy by: Amy
Oh my god this must be the weirdest thing I've ever read. Absurd and funny and shocking. I don't yet know what to make of this... Must re-read it.
(3.78 stars, bumped up to 4 for its being so memorable)

Why do you have to keep saying that over and over like an idiot, you idiot!

"It's really a lovely, delicate thing," said Eva, "but something makes me want to poke a finger in its eye."

If I see an acquaintance getting on my train, I make for the furthermost car. Damn, I don't like acquaintances.

If I...more
A. M.
It is difficult to speak of Vaculík without mentioning Kafka, and harder still to avoid speaking of political themes. And while it is true that Vaculík's writing embraces the same, discomfiting surrealism as Kafka, and that his works are undeniably rooted in the political struggles of his time and country, it is also a disservice to reduce his writing to these two attributes. Vaculík excels at the sublimely surreal, the casually monstrous. Reason is quietly abandoned here, with ambiguous symboli...more
Jason Carlin
Apr 26, 2011 Jason Carlin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves a bit of secrecy/curious events.
There's always something of sadness in these books. By that I mean from Kafka, Dostoyevsky, and many other mainland European writers. It's both a horrible and intriguing thing to watch a person completely morph into something inhuman, and I don't for a second suggest to care a fiddle about the political undertones of the book(I'm more a pleasure reader than an analytical one). What happened in the book was good enough to make me react emotionally, so I suppose the work is done. It's a tough read...more
Linda Munro
I won this book on The synopsis sounded interesting; although to be honest, I was a bit unsure of this book; after all, it was originally penned in the 1970's in Czechoslovakia. This was not exactly what I expecyed; but I have to admit, I enjoyed reading it! The author had a means to make you laugh, to make you happy, to make you sad and make you angry. He also gave a good insight to life in another country, which allowed me to compare life during the same era in the U.S. After co...more
The nearest I can figure is that this novel is about the process of decay and loss of will caused by the tight controls placed on human beings under Communist regimes. The protagonist's experimentation seems to represent the playing with humanity by regimes and an uncaring God. The guinea pigs are the example of how paralyzed and unthinking, how devoid of wishes and dreams, people become when socially, economically, culturally, or otherwise confined. A powerful, thought provoking novel, by an au...more
Translated from Czech, this dark comedy sneaks up on the reader. The narration of begins as if a story is being told to a small child, which was sweetly humorous, but which later started to take on a darker tone as the political symbolism became clearer to the reader. One could make a comparison between the way Vasek studied the family pet guinea pigs and the state's close watch over the citizens of the Czech Republic.

If you like conspiracy theories, behavioral experiments, even if they become v...more
Oct 29, 2012 Beth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Beth by: Ferris
The Guinea Pigs is a dark political allegory portraying the essence of life under Soviet rule during the Cold War in Czechoslovakia. The author, Ludvik Vaculik, speaks in riddles, metaphors and symbols to obscure the true meaning of his novel. Vaculik includes a bit of humor to reveal the absurdity inherent in such a regime. It is a daring piece that challenges one intellectually and philosophically. A profound literary work from a powerful Czech voice.
Matthew Roche
Extremely bizarre. You really need to be a fan of very esoteric fiction to enjoy this one.

However, I am such a fan and I really thought it was interesting and engaging. The narrator was infuriatingly sympathetic and horrific - his family dear and broken. The ending was a shock.

If you want something new, and you are a true Reader, give it a go. If you are rolling off the latest major Biography, there is nothing to see here.
Dysmonia Kuiper
Translated from Czech, the author and story are compared to Kafka. I didn't enjoy the book, but I was oddly intrigued, so I read it all the way through. Upon finishing it, I felt I needed someone smarter than me to explain it.
My initial reaction was that this book was too clever for it's own good, but a few chapters in I was very much into both the story and the narrator. Highly recommended.
Strange book! Hard time wrapping my brain around it. I tried, believe me I did.*Please note I received this book for free from Goodreads first-reads.*
Alexander Lesher
Feb 29, 2012 Alexander Lesher rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of post-war Eastern European literature.
A great book with a titan of a narrator. I want more. I will definitely check out more Three Percent books in the future.
Wow! I never expected I would enjoy this book, but I really did. I found myself interested from the very beginning.
Chad Post
So awesome; so glad we're reissuing this. AND including the drawings by his brother . . .
I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
Rebecca R
a reaching story about the dehumanizing effects of bureaucracy
I have a real soft spot for bizarre Czech novels.
A little dark but an interesting read.
Arseniy Kirichenko
Arseniy Kirichenko marked it as to-read
Jul 19, 2014
Andrew Munday
Andrew Munday marked it as to-read
Jul 18, 2014
Edhoncho marked it as to-read
Jul 16, 2014
Booksearcher marked it as to-read
Jul 16, 2014
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The Axe A Cup of Coffee With My Interrogator: The Prague Chronicles of Ludvik Vaculik Český snář Poslední slovo - výbor fejetonů z Lidových novin (1989-2001) Nepaměti

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