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My Brother-in-Law first mentioned this collection of stories by Karel Capek, one of the seminal Czech writers of the pre-Communist era, best known now, if at all, for originating the term "robot" in his 1920 play R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots.  These stories, which originally began appearing in 1928 in his newspaper column, are all short mysteries; but they are a unique type of mystery.  Capek is less interested in the mechanics of the mystery story itself than in the essential mysteries of human existence: a coded telegram makes a family doubt their daughter, a man is obsessed with footprints that disappear in the snow, a community is wonders why a certain woman is the only one who can find a certain type of blue flower, a stamp collection stolen in childhood is shown to have warped an old man's life, God sits in judgment on a condemned man, and so on.  Some are really terrific, some merely amusing, but all are interesting, albeit brief, meditations on our perceptions of the appearance of things, how those appearances often mask a much different reality and how those perceptions shape us.

To my mind, this is a collection that is best read a story at a time, much as he wrote them.  While they are somewhat interconnected, I found that reading several in succession was less enjoyable than savoring one a night or every couple of nights.  Let them ripen this way and the tales leave behind some indelible images.


Grade: (B+)


Karel Capek Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Karel ?apek
    -ESSAY: On Karel ?apek’s Prophetic Science Fiction Novel ‘War With the Newts’: The Czech writer’s darkly humorous novel, published in 1936, anticipated our current reality with eerie accuracy. (John Rieder, 1/30/23, MIT Press Reader)
-REVIEW: of R.U.R. and the Vision of Artificial Life by Karel ?apek and Jitka ?ejková (Jonathan Bolton, LA Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO/BIBLIO: Karel Capek, 1890-1938
    -Radio Prague's Virtual Cemetery - Karel Capek
    -Josef and Karel Capek
    -Rossum's Universal Robots (Karel Capek, 1920)
    -REVIEW : of Karel Capek  Apocryphal Tales Translated by Norma Comrada (James Partridge, The New Presence)
    -REVIEW : of  Letters from England by Karel Capek (Christopher Hart, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of Letters from England by Karel Capek(Noel Malcolm, booksonline)

    -What is robotics?
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of Karel Capek by IVAN KLIMA
    -REVIEW ESSAY: A Literary Comeback for Karel Capek (PATRICIA HAMPL, December 22, 2002, NY Times Book Review)