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Fuks, Ladislav

FUKS, Ladislav

Nationality: Czech. Born: Prague, 24 September 1923. Education: Charles University, Ph.D. 1949. Career: Clerk, Bela pod Bezdezem paper mill, Czechoslovakia, 1950-52; associated with Prague Paper Mills, 1952-55, the State Institute for Preservation of Historic Monuments, Prague, 1956-59, and the National Gallery, Prague, 1959-62; beginning 1963 full-time writer and lecturer on anti-Semitism and Czech literature. Awards: Czechoslovak award of the year for literature, 1963, 1966, 1968, and 1974; artist of merit, 1978; honored for distinction for reconstruction services, 1983. Died: 19 August 1994.

Publications

Novels

Variace pro temnou strunu [Variations for a Sombre String].1966.

Pan Theodor Mundstock. 1963; as Mr. Theodore Mundstock, 1968.

Mysi Natalie Mooshabrove [Mice of Natalia Mooshaber].1970.

Pribeh kriminalniho rady [Story of a Chief Detective Inspector]. 1971.

Neboztici na bale [The Deceaseds at the Ball]. 1972.

Pasacek z doliny [A Little Horseman from the Dale]. 1977.

Kristalovy pantoflicek [A Little Crystallier Slipper]. 1978.

Obraz Martina Blaskowitze [The Picture of Martin Blaskowitz].1980.

Vevodkyne a kucharka [The Duchess and the Cook]. 1983.

Spalovac mrtvol. 1967; as The Cremator, 1984.

Cesta do zaslibene zeme: A jine povidky. 1991.

Short Stories

Mi cernovlasi bratri [My Dark-Haired Brothers]. 1964.

Smrt morcete [Death of a Guinea Pig]. 1969.

Osloveni z tmy [A Voice from the Darkness]. 1972.

Navrat z zitneho pole [Return from the Rye Field]. 1974.

Other

Zamek Kynzvart: Historie a pritomnost [The Kynzvart Chateaux: History and Presence]. 1958.

Let, myslenko na zlatych kridlech vanku. 1994.

Moje zrcadlo: Vzpominky, dojmy, ohlednuti. 1995.

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Media Adaptations:

The Cremator; Story of a Chief Detective Inspector; A Little Horseman from the Dale; The Deceaseds at the Ball (Czech television); My Dark-Haired Brothers (Czech television); Mr. Theodore Mundstock, Mr. Theodor (opera), 1984, both from the novel Mr. Theodore Mundstock.

Critical Studies:

"Some Contemporary Czech Prose Writers" by Josef Skvorecky, in Novel, 4, 1970, pp. 5-13; "Mythic and Modern Elements in the Art of Ladislav Fuks: Natalia Mooshaber's Mice" by Thomas G. Winner, in Fiction and Drama in Eastern and Southeastern Europe: Evolution and Experiment in the Postwar Period, edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Thomas Eekman, 1980; The Jews in the Works of Ladislav Fuks by Sonia I. Kanikova, 1988.

* * *

Ladislav Fuks is an author who is not well known outside his native Czechoslovakia, but not because he was not prolific. It was the political times that caused many of his works simply not to gain the recognition they deserved. In the 1950s the Communist resistance against fascists was stressed in public school education in Czechoslovakia. The fact that many of the Czech victims were Jewish was not mentioned, and the information was swept into a corner and largely ignored until the turbulent 1960s. It was especially the early half of the 1960s that brought to light many of the atrocities that were committed against Czech Jews, and in these highly charged times students became very interested in learning about a history of which they were largely ignorant. Joseph Stalin was dead, and the floodgates of curiosity and experimentation began to open.

This was precisely the time Fuks became active as a writer and screenwriter. Surprisingly, although he wrote many works that encompassed Jewish themes, Fuks himself was not Jewish. His understanding of Jewish life and suffering stemmed from his personal observations during the occupation and his loss of many Jewish friends. Shortly before his death, he told Contemporary Authors about his reasons for writing on Jewish themes: "My creation has been influenced by my experiences and life under Nazi occupation, during which I lost a great many of my Jewish friends. In my work, I often reach up for horror or absurdity—but it is always functional, never self-purposeful."

Fuks's works are often psychological, sometimes filled with horror, and full of twists. He was a contemporary of Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Lustig , and Jiří Weil . His novel Pan Theodor Mundstock (Mr. Theodore Mundstock ) can be classified with Lustig's Darkness Casts No Shadow, Klíma's Láska a smetí (Love and Garbage ), and Weil's Život s hvězdou (Life with a Star ). All of these works deal both with the psychological dilemmas the characters in the works face and with the effect on the reader, who finds himself connected to each character's fate.

Fuks was an active participant in the Czech new wave cinema. Mr. Theodore Mundstock was directed as a film by Juraj Herz, and several of Fuks's other works, including Spalovač mrtvol (The Cremator ) and Mí černovlasí bratri (MyDark-Haired Brothers ), were also adapted for film or television. The Cremator became one of the leading art house films of the Czech new wave and won many international awards. It was not without controversy, for it was distributed in 1969, after the Soviet invasion. Thus, the film's content was deemed to be rather suspicious by government censors. The work shows how ideology converts an eccentric crematory worker, Pan Kopfrklingl, into a man capable of extreme cruelty. Under Nazi duress he becomes an informant and executioner for the Gestapo. My Dark-Haired Brothers tells the story of five schoolmates, three of whom are Jewish, during the time of the occupation. The richest of the three refuses to see the dangers that surround him.

In 1984 Leoš Faltus wrote and produced the opera Mr. Theodor, which was based on motifs by Fuks. The opera was awarded several prizes. Mr. Theodore Mundstock has also been performed as a play in French by the director Bruno Boeglin.

Despite his popularity, Fuks's life took on a rather surreal ending. According to the journalist Olga Švadlenová, he was living as a derelict, without friends or contacts with the outside world. He died in his apartment in Prague on 19 August 1994. No one knew of his death for two days.

—Cynthia A. Klíma

See the essay on Mr. Theodore Mundstock.

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