(CLASSIC: from Tales from Two Pockets, Catbird Press, 1994)
A very rare and beautiful Ottoman carpet with a “chintamani” pattern is lying forgotten in a small antique shop in Prague, where it serves as a bed for a hideous old dog. As in the story “The Blue Chrysanthemum” from the same collection, Karel Capek (1890 –1938) suggests that beauty can be found in the most unexpected places, but its specific feature is uselessness – the characters are unable to seize it, or permanently hold on to it, without the use of violence which would inevitably lead to destruction. It is a very amusing short story in the tradition of specific Czech sense of humor, known from the movies by Jiri Menzel and Milos Forman, with certain detective elements (that are the leitmotifs in the whole collection), and a melancholic twist.
(MODERN: from The Summer Book, NYRB Classics, 2008)
One of my favorite literary discoveries in the past few years is the amazing Finish-born Swedish-speaking author Tove Jansson (1914 – 2001). Although she is best known as the creator of the Moomin books (and also the visual imagery of the characters), one of the gems in her opus is also the collection of loosely connected short stories that form a novel called “The Summer Book”. It takes place in a small island in The Gulf of Finland, where a young girl is spending summers with her grandmother, an aged and moody artist with non-conventional views on life. The story called “The Cat” can be read as a brilliant short essay on love, possession and the frustrations of freedom.
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