Czechia's second chance at Eurovision glory has a literary twist

The Czech entry on the 37-book list of nominees for the Eurovision song contest may speak to a different generation of Eurovision fans.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 14.05.2023 13:01:00 (updated on 15.05.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

Czech band Vesna took tenth place at Saturday's Eurovision song contest. And while top honors went to Swedish singer Loreen, the all-girl international band finished in tenth, the second-best result for the Czech Republic in the competition, with their song My Sister's Crown.

The contest may be over but Czechia still has another shot at Eurovision glory with the launch this year of the Eurovision Book Contest. Fans of Czech fiction and world literature will likely be divided by the country's first-ever entry for the competition, held in association with Eurovision as part of the Hay Festival, an annual literary event in Wales.

Earlier this year, the project invited readers to submit their favorite fiction from any of the 37 countries competing in the Eurovision Song Contest this year. The preliminary nominations were open to all genres and languages, according to the festival site. However, submissions were limited only to books published since the Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956.

Thousands of readers voted and an expert panel created a reading list of 37 titles to be showcased during a special Hay Festival event on June 2 in Hay-on-Wye. The list will be debated during the event, and an overall winner will be voted on.

Central European titles nominated for the Eurovision Book Contest

  • The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler – AUSTRIA
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer translated by Patrick Süskind – GERMANY
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk – POLAND
  • Read the full list of 37 nominees here.

Kundera and Czechia: It's complicated

Among the novels selected to compete, the Czech Republic's entry is author Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a strange selection for an author whose complicated portrayal of women seems at odds with the current zeitgeist – and who has been writing in the French language since 1993.

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In the 1970s, unable to work in Czechoslovakia, the author and his wife fled to France. Stripped of his Czech citizenship, in 1981 Kundera became a French citizen. Kundera's most recent work, The Festival of Insignificance was originally published in French as La fête de l'insignifiance.

The Kundera novel chosen to represent Czechia in the book competition, a tale of infidelity among intellectuals set during the Prague Spring, came out in 1984 but wasn't published in the original Czech until 1985. The second Czech edition wasn't published until 2006, some 18 years after the Velvet Revolution, as Kundera didn't approve of the earlier translation.

Kundera has made amends with his homeland. His Czech citizenship was restored in 2019. In 2020, he gifted his massive collection of author copies in scores of languages to a new library in his hometown of Brno. In 2021 he was awarded the prestigious Franz Kafka Prize. The Milan Kundera Library opened this April on the author's 94th birthday.

Two different Eurovision 'acts' that share an anti-authority edge

Whether or not Kundera is truly a "Czech" author has been widely debated, though the book's message, a critique of totalitarianism and an exploration of the complexities of human relationships and the search for meaning in a world that often seems devoid of it, can surely be read on a contemporary European level.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being has also been described as a novel about the end of European communism, its themes of exile and repression capturing important insights into the era of the Prague Spring and depicting a number of its key events, including the tank invasion of the Warsaw Pact in Prague (photographed by one of the novel's main characters).

On the Eurovision Book Contest stage, Czechia's entry may not be the literary equivalent of Vesna, a self-proclaimed feminist group with empowering lyrics that speak to a generation more tuned in to Tiktoks than tanks. But the artists are closely bound by their words of rebellion against regimes past and present, while their multicultural dimensions (Vesna is made up of performers from around the bloc) underscore Eurovision's call for cultural exchange.

Tell us what you think. Is The Unbearable Lightness of Being the best representative selection for Czechia in the Eurovision Book Contest?

Yes 45 %
No 55 %
22 readers voted on this poll. Voting is closed
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