“In German, Prague is of neuter gender. But in Czech it is a lady. No wonder it was made into a gadabout. Although it was not as huge as Paris, it seemed impenetrable to the Czechs. Sometimes cruel, picky and cold. More than once, it seemed that she preferred opponents to respectable worshipers. She oppressed her peasants almost with delight.”
Gruša’s book is a narrative about Czech history (especially recent events) as well as about Czech myths and legends. But it is also a story about the dark sides of the country’s past, about Czech complexes, “dead bodies hidden in the closet” and events which today – despite the freedom of speech – are discussed rather reluctantly. It is also a story of a great erudite and a man of great knowledge, written with enthusiasm, with a Czech sense of humour and self-irony, full of funny word games and poetic images. At the same time, you can drive around the Czech Republic while holding it on your lap, because it also meets almost all the requirements of a typical guide.
“Gruša’s literary guide to Bohemia (and Moravia) can be irritating, but its intellectual strength is unquestionable. It brings out the historical heritage of Czech liberal thought, criticising every manifestation of weakness in front of form, power and national phobias.”
Kacper Szulecki, „Kultura Liberalna”
Czechia. A User’s Manual is the most convincing proof of how little we know about Czech culture and literature, and what treasures are hidden in them – unknown to us.
Włodzimierz Kalicki „Gazeta Wyborcza”, „Duży Format”
Jiří Gruša is one of the most important Czech writers of the second half of the 20th century. During the short thaw (1964–1965), he was among the founders (with Václav Havel among others) of one of the most interesting literary magazines, “Tvář”. After the magazine was closed, he published mainly translations and reviews under a pseudonym. During the democratisation of the Prague Spring of 1968, he co-founded another important literary magazine, “Sešity pro mladou literature”. After the Warsaw Pact troops entered Czechoslovakia, it was also liquidated, and the writer himself was banned from publishing.
In the early 1970s, together with Ludvík Vaculík and Ivan Klíma, he created the first and most important independent publishing house, operating outside censorship – “Petlice” (Skobel). For this, and for his activities under the opposition Charter 77, he was imprisoned many times. In 1980 he received permission from the authorities to go on a literary scholarship to the USA, but during his stay abroad he was deprived of Czechoslovak citizenship. He settled in Germany, where he worked, among others, as a city writer in Bonn, translated and wrote literary texts and was active in the circles of Czechoslovak political exiles. He was able to return to the country only after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He is the author of several volumes of poems as well as novels and collections of essays, for which he has received the most important Czech literary awards.