Last week, Freight Books read…

War With the Newts, by Karel Čapek

War with the Newts is weird yet wonderful. Sold as a humorous allegory of early 20th Century Czech politics, I was expecting to have my knowledge of Slavonic history stretched to breaking point, but couldn’t resist the title nor the cover artwork. If there were any specific references to Czech politics they passed me by. The novel contains allusions to the League of Nations, the slave trade, and imperialism, but you could get away with not knowing about any of those things.

A sea captain looking for pearls comes across a colony of giant newts. He teaches them how to protect themselves from sharks, and in return they collect pearls for him. This relationship soon becomes one of exploitation, as the newts are the perfect form of cheap labour, but as a new age of prosperity begins for mankind nobody notices how fast the newts are breeding…

On the whole a good read, which I banged through quickly. If it was to be your first foray into Czech literature, however, I would counsel you to read Closely Observed Trains, I Served the King of England, The Good Soldier Svejk or The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

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