The Devil’s Workshop
Author: Jachym Topol
Translator: Alex Zucker
Original language: Czech
Published by: Portobello Books, 2013
‘The devil had his workshop here in Belarus. The deepest graves are in Belarus. But nobody knows about them.’
A young boy grows up in Terezín – an infamous fortress town with a sinister past. Together with his friends he plays happily in this former Nazi prison, scouting the tunnels for fragments of history under the careful eye of one of its survivors, Uncle Lebo, until one day there is an accident, and he is forced to leave.
Returning to Terezín many years later, he joins Lebo’s campaign to preserve the town, but before long the authorities impose a brutal crack-down, chaos ensues, and the narrator finds himself fleeing to Belarus, where fresh horrors drive him ever closer to the evils he had hoped to escape.
Bold, brilliant and blackly comic, The Devil’s Workshop paints a deeply troubling portrait of two countries dealing with their ghosts and asks: at what point do we consign the past to history?
‘A miracle of compression, its scope greater than ought to be possible for a book of its length. Topol [is] one of the most original and compelling European voices at work today’