Tibor Fischer’s top 10 eastern European novels

Tibor Fischer, author of the Booker-shortlisted Under the Frog and The Thought Gang, was selected as one of Granta’s 20 best British young novelists in 1993. His latest novel is Voyage to the End of the Room.

1. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

What a novel. Hasek blew a lifetime’s wit and wisdom in one splurge. Relentlessly funny and true; I read it every two years or so. But why did it have to be written by a Czech?

2. Embers by Sándor Márai

Not Márai’s best novel, but it’s the only one available in English. The Hungarians have been better at poetry than the novel, but Márai is the master of Hungarian prose, and soon the English-speaking world will bow down before him.

3. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Written in under four weeks, this is Dostoevsky at his very best without any of the buggering about that mars the longer works. Tells you everything you need to know about the Russians.

4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

He fought the law when fighting the law was rather fatal. On balance his strongest work, and I’m not choosing him because one of his best mates in the Gulag was called Tibor.

5. Ashes and Diamonds by Jerzy Andrzejewski

Want to know why the Poles are unchallenged as the hard men of eastern Europe? This staggeringly bleak work about postwar Poland goes a long way to explaining.

6. Omon Ra by Viktor Pelevin

One of the best short-story writers on the planet. Pelevin’s first novel about the space race is both the burial of the Soviet era and the birth of new Russian writing. Last I heard he was in hiding in Germany because he’d upset the Russian far right.

7. The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy

Unemployed Hungarian foreign minister turns his hand to novel-writing. This is set in the runup to the first world war and features more about Hungarian politics than is really necessary, but no avant-garde flourishes; just good, old-fashioned storytelling. Page-turning, erotic and funny.

8. The Joke by Milan Kundera

Another Czech. The great novel of Stalinist lunacy which isn’t funny at all.

9. The General of the Dead Army by Ismail Kadare

It’s never been much of a laugh in Albania. Grim but gripping novel about the Germans getting their dead back.

10. Memoir of a Russian Punk by Eduard Limonov

Mad, bad and dangerous to know (he once attacked novelist Paul Bailey and machine-gunned Sarajevo), Eddie-Baby relives his days as a gangmember in the provincial city of Kharkov in the 50s.


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/sep/08/top10s.eastern.european