Short Story Review – Jiří Kratochvil – The Legend of the Eternal Return (trans. Jeffrey Castle)

Oh, Miss Jahodová, what have you gotten yourself into?  All you want is love, well, really, to be loved, to be wooed, to have a handsome man at your arm.  You have small ambitions, but thus far you have been unable entirely to meet them.  You don’t ask for much.  Nothing, really.  Nothing.

There she is, quiet (we assume), minding her own business (she is in her house, after all, so whatever she does is her business), when a shadow scurries across the carpet. No, not a shadow.  A mouse.

A mouse.

No, unmistakably the Generalissimus, somehow come to life again.  In his ‘hoarse, ragged voice’, he tells her that

he had been reincarnated in this form so that he could write his memoirs, which he had never quite gotten around to doing during what had been a truly thrilling life.

He – Stalin, let’s be clear – wants her to type up his memoirs as he dictates them.  She isn’t much of a typist.  She can’t spell.  She had never even spent any time as a secretary.  Why her?  Well, Miss Jahodová, because you have been asked.  Requested.  Imposed upon.  Demanded.  Coerced?

Somewhat.  They settle into a rhythm.  She’s not too bad at it!  Oh, Miss Jahodová, perhaps you will find love.  One day your life might have purposes.  But – oh no – the mouse notices that Miss Jahodová is the kind of woman (the kind of person, really – we all do it at times and let’s not be too sexist) who becomes flighty both when they are newly in, and newly out, of love.  She gets that itch when single for too long – she can’t concentrate.  Can’t focus.  The mouse checks the memoirs – not good enough!

They come to some friction.  Miss Jahodová, clever, buys a cat to take care of her problem.  The cat, clever, gobbles up the mouse.

And now the cat speaks with the Generalissimus’ voice.

What there is to do, and what she does, and what happens with the cat, will be an exercise left to the reader.  Look, if it isn’t clear from the above, this was a rollicking good story, funny and engaging and serious in its silliness.  I am reminded somewhat of Kundera’s more fabulous excursions (which were sadly rare), and in general of that very Iron-Curtain-ish mix of the serious with the absurd.

The narrator’s presence throughout this story is a nice touch, and adds to the verisimilitude of the story.  We are led to believe that this is something of a historical record, a firmly true recounting of facts.  The narrator is not afraid to use “I” statements, and to provide parenthetical asides to add extra information to the story, to bring us close, to make the reader as much a part of the story as the characters.  This technique helps to distance us from Miss Jahodová, who remains as mysteriously interesting as the Stalin-mouse, and serves also to engender the feeling that this narrator may very well have a direct line into a thousand such stories.

I am new to Jiří Kratochvil’s writing, and from this small story I hope to read more.  What a great time.

The Legend of the Eternal Return is a short story by Czech writer Jiří Kratochvil, and was translated by Jeffrey Castle.  You can read the story online at Barricade.

Author Jiří Kratochvil
Title The Legend of the Eternal Return
Translator Jeffrey Castle
Nationality Czech
Publisher Barricade

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s