The author of the European Union prize winning novel Turkish Mirror has written another historical novel, about a fairly recent event: the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and its satellite states in 1968. The invasion ended the period of liberalization initiated by Alexander Dubček, known as the Prague Spring. The narrator of Viktor Horváth’s novel is an of ficer in the invading Hungarian army, a half-wit who becomes an active participant in the events as an interpreter of the most prominent politicians. The protagonist is an immature character who admires political leaders and enthusiastically supports Communist dictatorship. He writes love letters to Julika, a Hungarian girl who lives in Czechoslovakia, plays with toy soldiers in the barracks with another officer, allows himself to be cuckolded by a secret agent to whom he faithfully reports everything that he hears as interpreter, and participates wholeheartedly in the aggression.
Yet far from being a bleak story, Viktor Horváth’s novel is incredibly funny. Besides the naivity and stupid enthusiasm of the narrator, the main source of fun is the language: the obscenity of army officers, the shiftiness and Communist jargon of politicians and secret agents, and the contrast between chilling events and their naive narration. The novel is interspersed with letters written to Julika, in which the protagonist narrates his life and ideas, asks Julika whether sex has already been introduced in Czechoslovakia under Dubček, and crosses out pieces of information that he suspects are in fact top secret. Other special treats include Villonesque ballads in which various characters, from a boar killed during a hunt – a favourite pastime of Communist leaders – to the lieutenant-general who signs the document authorizing the invasion, burst into song. My Tank is a funny book which is, however, based on research about the invasion and the negotiations preceding and leading up to it, and which, through the por trayal of the protagonist, shows how people fail to grow up in dictatorial regimes. Writing about one of the most shameful incidents in Hungary’s history of the second half of the 20th century, Viktor Horváth’s novel also calls attention to some chilling similarities between the power techniques of the Kádár era and our present time, as well as to the tendency to shift responsibility on others and to follow leaders.
My Tank was published as part of the “K4 – one book, four countries, four languages” project, a book series which promotes the translation of Central European works into other Central European languages. Each year, a Central European author’s work is published in four languages (Czech, Slovak, Polish and Hungarian) simultaneously, on the very same day, in all the four countries.
ISBN 978 963 14 3603 7
276 pages, 125×197 mm
Slovak, Iron Libri
Czech, Větrné mlýny
Polish, Książkowe Klimaty
English excerpts available