Mariusz Szczygieł is a Polish journalist, at some point more known from his TV presence (he chaired one of the first Polish talk-shows) in the 2000s he focused again in writing. This is his third book I’m reading. I loved Gottland, his tribute to Czech Republic, blending beautifully the funny absurdities with quiet despair. Nie Ma, I read last year and it was so good and moving it brought me down for the entire May. In this book Szczygieł comes back to the love of his life – the Czech Republic.
The title translation would run something like this: Make Your Own Paradise. Again we get to explore the quirks of the Czech psyche with Szczygieł. I liked the book a lot, but it lacks a bit the scale of Gottland. He writes about Czech’s approach to religion, death, laughing and having fun. Very funnily describes popes visit in a country that perceives itself as the most atheist. We have here a mix of Szczygieł’s observations and interviews with people.
Again there is this mix of laughter and despair, but less pronounced than in Gottland. The book feels a little bit more disjointed. You have to consciously take a step back to piece it all together. That said it is very readable. Szczygieł has a lightness of language and narration that is rarely matched in non-fiction writing. He makes things feel personal and special, but keeps the option open to broaden the perspective from individualistic into a wide scope panorama of a nation.
Czech Republic sometimes tends to be a bit forgotten in Europe. It is not a big country, but certainly one with very distinctive personality. With a penchant for laughter in the face of adversity. But also with fear of heroism and disdain for pathos. A country where people just want to live and be left alone. One that is fascinating for Poles because it is so close and yet feels so different.
I don’t think this book will be translated into Engligh, I know there is French and Italian edition. But if you’d like to find out more about Czech Republic I really, really with all my heart recommend Gottland, that is available in English. Meanwhile, I’ll try to get my hands on some more books by Szczygieł, this is the non-fiction that certainly agrees with me. One from which we can learn more about the world and people. One that inspires compassion and empathy, without ever being preachy, just by pure virtue of curiosity about others.