Rick Wayne's Reviews > War with the Newts

War with the Newts by Karel Čapek
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it was amazing

One of the best works of fiction in any genre, in any language. (Yes, it's that good.) Capek takes on humanity itself and leaves no one standing. The lessons of his imagined catastrophe are chilling in their realism and as applicable today, 80+ years after it was written, as to centuries past. Smart, incisive, and most of all timeless. My only regret is that I didn't read this sooner.


One could devote an entire book to the study of this one -- not just the content but the form. While there is a definite flow to the narrative and some of the characters occasionally reappear, there is not a protagonist in the classic sense. In fact, Capek takes pot shots at such human self-centeredness (where we readers imagine ourselves the protagonist) with the character of Mr. Povondra, the humble doorman who believes everything that has happened has hinged on him.

Without a central protagonist, Capek explodes the concept of a novel. Each chapter is a slice or vignette that illustrates in one episode some part of the larger story of man's encounter with the newts. Some chapters are straightforwardly narrative; others read like transcripts; one has copious footnotes; newspaper articles are quoted at length; and the last is the author talking to himself -- and this some 30 years before Vonnegut.

If that seems off-putting, it isn't. That's its genius. It not only "works," in that it tells a compelling story, you will see echoes of contemporary events that Capek couldn't possibly have predicted -- and not just looming catastrophes like the environmental crisis, but our current preoccupation with "fake news" and the cult of celebrity. Imagine yourself writing a book as elegantly applicable to the year 2100 as to today. That's the achievement.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 26, 2018 – Shelved

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