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Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  3,587 ratings  ·  208 reviews

Winner of the Europe Book Prize

One of Europe’s most preeminent investigative journalists travels to the Czech Republic—the Czech half of the former Czechoslovakia, the land that brought us Kafka—to explore the surreal fictions and the extraordinary reality of its twentieth century.

For example, there’s the story of the small businessman who adopted Henry Ford’s ideas on

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 27th 2014 by Melville House (first published 2006)
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Lorenzo Berardi
I read this book in Italian. I was forced to.
Despite of my moderate efforts, my current Polish doesn't go very far. And no one thought to give this book a chance on the English speaking market.
Which is a shame.

Perhaps it's just the name of its author, Szczygiel (roughly pronounced Shigyaooh).
Perhaps it's the title of the book, Gottland (no, it's not German).
On the whole, for an average British or American reader, I assume there seems to be very little to get from such obscure and tongue-twisting
The existence of Polish reportage as a trademark national genre has been familiar to me for a long time, yet this is the first book-length example I've read. (I also couldn't tell you how it is like and unlike Anglo creative non-fiction, something which has been growing in popularity in the last 5-10 years - and which is probably a new name for a type of writing that has been around considerably longer. Anyway, have a couple of articles on Polish reportage, from the British Library and culture.p ...more
All this happened, more or less.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Hana's nightmare: (view spoiler)
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mag by: Baska
It is a very good, but profoundly depressing book. Apart from an opening essay on Bata – the Czech whose shoes became famous worldwide - it deals with the hardcore communist times in Czechoslovakia. It’s very unsettling to realize the extent of control and terror that the regime had. It eerily reminds one that it was indeed Kafka’s country- ‘where the life of the accused is the crime in itself.’ Szczygiel’s second book on Czechoslovakia, Make Yourself a Paradise, is lighter, the stories are more ...more
Unfortunately this book is not available in English (though I sincerely hope somebody fixes that soon), so I read the excellent French translation by Margot Carlier. It's a terrific book, engaging and moving and funny (in a sort of bleak, Mitteleuropan way). I was particularly struck by the story of the building of the Stalin monument in Prague in the late 50's — among other calamities that surround its construction, the artist's model who posed for Stalin ends up killing himself because everyon ...more
Zuzana Navratilova
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Karel Gott is sacred in a desacralized reality.
A world without God is impossible, so in the world’s most atheistic country, which is the Czech Republic, the sixty-seven-year-old star plays an important role.
The role of mein Gott
. 🕺🏻
I remember listening to the audiobook in the middle of winter of 2012/2013, pushing a pram through snow, day after day. Even today I am inclined to think this book is objectively, not subjectively, depressing. 3,5 stars.
David Dinaburg
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I’ve yet to fully embrace the binge-watching zeitgeist that on-demand seems to have transformed from its unremarkable pupal stage—TNT’s all-day Law & Order marathons—into the tectonic shift of the modern entertainment industry. I attribute it to my friend Shane, who, back in late 2004, convinced me that portioning was as important as timing. Between Me Talk Pretty—read only one story/chapter per day, no matter how funny or how much you wanted to keep going—and The Office—there was only the BBC v ...more
May 30, 2014 marked it as maybe
Recommended to Bettie by: B O D Y
Description: Translated By B O D Y contributor Antonia Lloyd-Jones, this collection of essays captures the Czech national character through a series of discrete cultural portraits, including those of Kafka’s niece, the Czech Elvis, and the blowing up Stalin’s statue into non-existence. The original Polish publication by Mariusz Szczygieł won numerous awards when it appeared in 2008. Lloyd-Jones’s skilled translation retains the book’s puckish humor and keen insight.
Michal Procházka
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. If you want to see a not distorted view about Czech republic, i.e. culture, society, it's a very good choice. It's neither defense, nor critism of Czech well-known personalities' (20th century) behavior. From Baťa to Palach. Golden Kids. Etc.
Dec 25, 2014 added it
An extraordinary book of true stories (non fiction written in short narratives that seem more uncanny than any fiction) about/set in the former Czechoslovakia.
Pamela Coleman
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
in preparation for my July trip
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book was...bizzare. But I think that's the point! If you've ever read ANYTHING about Communism or Russia during the time of the Soviet Union, you can understand how upside down the world seemed to be, and that included inside Czechoslovakia. This is a sad book, in a lot of ways, full of stories of people whose worlds were crushed for no good reason.
This is a translation of a Polish book, and I'm thankful I read it. 3.5 stars.
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really like this book. The writing is staccato and it isn't clear if that's because it's translated from Polish to English or because that's just the way he writes. There are a series of stories pertaining to famous Czechs that most of us only vaguely know. The real thesis of the book, of course, deals with how a country and its belief system deal with fascists and authoritarians, and the answer, unfortunately, is that the people are generally beaten down or worse. The book is amusing througho ...more
Jan 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book. It offers a glimpse into the very strange and fascinating lives of famous Czechs that I didn't know so much about. It is nicely framed through the atmosphere of the times in which each person lived. I had no idea how eccentric the Bat'a brothers were. Pity he forgot to include Jára Cimrman, though...
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a fascinating book! I traveled to Czech two years ago and found it to be so peaceful and serene - but as a true American traveler I did no research on the country before. I had no idea how corrupt, sad and twisted things were even a decade ago. Absolutely awesome read!
What a book. A joy to read, even though it's seldom uplifting. Makes me want to go to the Czech Republic right away and read it again. If you have any interest in Eastern European or communist history, then you should order it right away.
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't put this book down. I wish it had been already published ten years ago when I studied Czech language and cultre. Fascinating lecture.
David Livingstone
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Glad to see an English translation is coming out. Wonderful book, very insightful about Czechs from a Polish perspective.
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Just couldn't get into this one. Didn't come close to matching the hype for me. Seemed like it was trying too hard, without even having a meaningful point to make.
The author is a Polish journalist who is fascinated with Czech history and culture, and the book, winner of the European Book Prize, has been labeled “the first cubistic reportage.” I’m not at all sure what that might mean, but the format is unusual: brief snippets, often out of context, about Czech people and events. Hitler reportedly says, “Of all the Slavs, the Czech is the most dangerous, because he is diligent.” Many of these essays are quite interesting, showing how people adapted and surv ...more
This is how Czechoslovakia looked like. The nation of Jan Hus, Franz Kafka, Tomáš Baťa, Alexander Dubček, Karel Gott and Václav Havel. This is a couple of reportages describing lives of various Czechs: artists, celebrities, businessmen, doctors, describing how did they cope with living under German occupation, later under communism, juxtaposed with historical events: 1918, 1938, 1945, 1948, 1968, 1989. Many of the stories here are tragic, some are simply meditative, but all are real, and all are ...more
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you like the Czech Republic at all due to Kafka, Bat'a, the Cold War, Karel Gott, heritage, or some other reason, this book is a page-turner and will give you all you could want from a journalistic book about the Czech Republic. It is hilarious and covers quite a bit of ground while also having all the narrative detail you could want in your story, and everyone likes reading stories from Prague and other Czech places featuring Kafka sugar packets, dorky Stalin statues, and more, which there a ...more
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating picture of Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic where a playwright became a president... I listened to an audio-book in Polish and was taken aback by how different, yet similar was the resistance of Czechs in comparison to resistance of Poles. Poland had the hopeless Warsaw Uprising in 1944 while Czechoslovakia had a revolt in 1968, even more hopeless. Ironically enough, Poland took part in Soviet invasion to "save" Czechoslovakia in 1968...
Ross Nelson
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because a Czech friend said I should read about Tomas Bata, and by chance, Gottland starts out with a story about him. That story and all the rest are surreal tales of life during the war years and the Soviet era.

There are, by turns, fascinating, horrible, and hilarious, often all at once. Great writing and amazing bits of Czech history.
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't give this book the maximum score, because I've thought that it would be even better. Nevertheless, usually I don't like the irony, but here it's so slick and subtle that it's a pleasure to read it. By the wya, putting the longest chapter in the beginning was quite unusual and bold choice - I can only congratulate.
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
An entertaining, sometimes funny, often sad journey through the Kafkaesque world of communist-era Czechoslovakia. The author highlights some of the absurdities of that time, and the price paid by the many who raised the suspicions of the regime. For some there would eventually be a redemption of sorts. Others would live with a shadow over them for decades.
To what extent should a review consider a book's title, blurb, endorsements, or even its promotion and the resulting expectations? In a vacuum, if I'd stumbled on this book without all the above, I'd have a positive impression. It's an easy, fun, little book on Czech culture/people with randomly selected historical or modern asides. But including the extras above, I can't help but think of criticisms.

Why "mostly true"? Are we not supposed to believe the stories? Is this history/journalism, or ar
Łukasz Truszkowski
A very good book showing how the communistic system can destroy people (with a single example that similar things can happen today). I liked it a lot, but sometimes I found the style of writing to be too laconic, short and sharp in the rhythm (as the author admits in the postscriptum). It might be typical for reportage though, I'm not sure since it's the first time I read a book from this genre.
Kendra Srebro
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you love the Czech Republic like I do, you'll love this! Was a great accompaniment to my trip to Prague.
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Od 1990 roku związany z Gazetą Wyborczą, gdzie był uczniem Hanny Krall. W latach 1995–2001 prowadzący telewizyjnego talk-show Na każdy temat. Założyciel i członek zarządu Fundacji Instytut Reportażu, w ramach której wraz z Wojciechem Tochmanem założył Wydawnictwo Dowody na Istnienie.

Mając lat 16 został współpracownikiem harcerskiego czasopisma „Na Przełaj”. W 1985 napisał tam reportaż pt. Nie rób

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