A moving and reflective memoir, In Search of the Essence of Place is a Remembrance of Things Past where places are the protagonists and people only appear as shadows. As though filmed by Wim Wenders, the book returns to the Czech settings of the author’s childhood and youth, sweeps through his empty home and a deserted Pilsen, and aspires to the glittering promises of America. But there too, the urban landscape is a deserted theatre set and the self confessed Metaphysician on foot comes back to explore Paris.
Here Král continues the project he started in Working Knowledge of deconstructing the everyday. Nowhere are things what they seem, and the poet Král goes on looking for the gaps in the façades of the urban Potemkin village, with emotion but without nostalgia.
In Search of the Essence of Place is a memoir of Petr Král’s experiences growing up in post-war Czechoslovakia and his later years in Paris. In a unique and elliptical self-portrait, from childhood dens beneath a piano and forts built beneath tables, the book spreads out past the family home, to the fields beyond and the businesses past that, and then to a barracks town perforated with secret spaces, discovering a whole country that exists only as a façade. Compelling and poetic, it explores place with intense care, and finds it fluid and richly associative. In a text that becomes its own rolling landscape, Král’s extraordinary language is born from and rewards deep, unusual attention and feeling.
Petr Král’sIn Search of the Essence of Place is translated from the French by Christopher Moncrieff and published by Pushkin Press
Petr Král, born in Prague in 1941, was a leading member of the Czech surrealist movement, studied cinema and moved to Paris in 1968. A poet, essayist and screenwriter, he has lived in Prague since 2006. His books Working Knowledge (2008) and In Search of the Essence of Place (2012) are also published by Pushkin Press.