A “Laboratory of Twilight” Versus a “Pub in Bořivojova Street”: Demystifying the Czech Myth and Decentring Central Europe in Emil Hakl’s Of Kids and Parents (O rodičích a dětech)

  • Abstract:
    The history of physical and socio-political violence in Central Europe, a region marred by Nazi occupation and Communist oppression, has always been a cocktail of confusion. Despite Milan Kundera’s controversial attempts to demarcate the boundaries of Central Europe, the region remains an ambiguous territory of which only shared history is multiculturalism, multilingualism and ever-shifting borders. A mélange of blatant betrayals and subtle propaganda which led to collective ethnic cleansing, culminated in pogroms and post-war repatriation policies, as well as personal brainwashing of prejudice gilded in the name of nationalism, Central European history is a distillation of dark humour and (e)strange(d) politics. In Emil Hakl’s Of Kids and Parents (O rodičích a dětech), published in 2002, translated into English by Marek Tomin and released as a film adaptation in 2008, social(ist) problem, as well as Kundera’s Czech myth, is presented “with a human face” and challenged by two familiar faces. Father and son go on a drinking odyssey around Prague and discuss the so-called “European civilisation”, family, immigrant life, post-war repatriation, fleeting memories, death and nihilism, among other random topics over pints of beer, glasses of much stronger substance and typical greasy pub food, with occasional “draining” intermissions at the men’s toilet. A “pub crawl” through the social and political upheavals of the twentieth century, of which the impact can still be felt on a personal level, Of Kids and Parents exposes the absurdities embedded within the common question in the Czech language “So what’s new?” [“Tak copak je nového?”] and within any attempt to fix and fixate on the “central/periphery” dichotomy as readers, along with the characters, become inebriated with and sobered from the (re-)constructed narratives that bind individuals together equally as “kids” of regimes and ideologies as well as “masters”, according to Vaclav Havel, of their own ever-changing fate.