The Coasts of Bohemia Essay - Critical Essays

Derek Sayer

The Coasts of Bohemia

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Czechs, whose mountain-ringed kingdom was once the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, had almost vanished as a self-conscious people by the early nineteenth century. After losing the battle of White Mountain to the Hapsburgs in 1520, they were stripped of their religious freedoms, their noble estates, and their political independence. The Germans, a powerful and important minority that the Czechs had humbled in the fifteenth century Hussite Wars, now became so dominant that there was essentially no Czech literature, art, or educational system.

This began to change when Frantisek Palacky began to restore the memory of the past and build on the foundation of the Czech people a great nation. This was a difficult task, because Czech itself was only the language of peasants and laborers. Nevertheless, the efforts of novelists, playwrights, and artists provided a cultural awareness at the moment there was an increase in population, urbanization, and the introduction of a national school system.

The unexpected creation of a Czechoslovak state in 1918 left the Czechs still a minority; neither Germans, Slovaks, nor Jews were happy in a state that stressed its newfound Czechness. The disunited nation was left to its fate at the 1938 Munich Conference, but post-war Czechoslovakia had no Jews (murdered at Auschwitz), no Germans (expelled), and no Ruthenians (annexed to the Ukraine). The Communists set about creating their mythological version of the past and future.

Czech resistance to Soviet domination took the form of surrealistic literature and art, and a gentle refusal to comply. This was the traditional method of dealing with unpopular governments who tried to make the Czech people into something foreign.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, April, 1998, p. 1302.

Choice. XXV, November, 1998, 579.

Foreign Affairs. LXXVII, September, 1998, p. 161.

Kirkus Reviews. LXVI, February 15, 1998, p. 253.

Library Journal. CXXIII, May 15, 1998, p. 98.

The New Republic. CCXIX, September 7, 1998, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, January 26, 1998, p. 75.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, October 11, 1998, p. 13.

Washington Times. May 31, 1998, p. B7.