Children between good and evil
Poet, prose writer, translator, winner of several literary prizes and winemaker, Bogdan Trojak (1975) signed his first novel for children with this book. He says about this book which propelled him among the best Czech authors of literature for children and young people:
“It’s a classic story where good ultimately outweighs evil, though that might seem unlikely in the present day. But I still believe it’s possible. It is the story of a gang of children who embark on the trail of something evil, something strange and dark which is represented in the book by the character of Glutaman. And Glutaman is finally defeated by this bunch of kids. »
The Band of Kingfishers
The gang consists of three schoolboys who all have a kingfisher-shaped pocket knife. These knives, whose blade represents the beak of this bird, symbolize the friendship and unity of this little brotherhood of boys in search of adventure and who lack neither courage nor cunning. In the exceptional circumstances mentioned in the novel, the boys are forced to adopt two new members who will prove very useful. They are Justýnka, a clever and cunning little girl, and her brother Kajetán, a boy with a passion for encyclopedias and who is therefore very educated. Justýnka a Kajetán are also the names of Bogdan Trojak’s children. He explains:
“I wrote this book for my children, Kajetán and Justýnka, and so they were my inspiration. Especially Justýnka who is a character in the book who plays an important role. She’s the shortest in the gang and she’s got a problem. She knows that she will not grow up and will remain small throughout her life. But at the end of the book, she discovers that it is not important to be tall but to have a big heart. »
Glutaman, an execrable genius
The band of Kingfishers is therefore now strong enough to embark on a fight against evil, personified by Glutaman, a mad scientist with the ambitions of a usurper. The children gradually discover the hidden empire of this brilliant criminal who floods the market with harmful products from his food factory. This sneaky activity allows him to act on the mentality of consumers and transform them into a malleable and obedient mass. Bogdan Trojak does not hide having been inspired by the current reality:
“Although this book is not only environmentalist, this theme is still present. Glutaman is a mad genius who seeks to enslave the populace through harmful foods and usurp power. (…) Even adult readers, who will read this book with their children, will find themes inspired by reality. One of the models for the character of Glutaman is obviously a Czech politician who feeds the population with sausages and croissants…”
An almost surreal universe
Nothing is impossible in the strange universe of this novel. Children meet creatures as bizarre as they are funny. They are monsters created by Glutaman in his laboratories by experimenting on men and animals to make them the instruments of realization of his sneaky objectives. All of these fish-men, moth-men, and other monsters are absolutely devoted to their master and completely lack free will. It is with the help of his monstrous minions that Glutaman has built a gigantic underground factory in which he manufactures his denatured foods.
And suddenly, he comes up against a small band of children, a few schoolchildren who discover his intentions and dare to stand up to him. They have practically no means to face such a formidable adversary, but they are well organized and do not lack skill and ingenuity. Faced with such weapons, Glutaman will ultimately prove powerless. While writing this novel, Bogdan Trojak had a fairly concrete age category in mind:
“It’s a bit in the genre of science fiction located halfway between the stories of Jaroslav Foglar and the novels of Jules Verne. I think it’s a book that can be understood already by children from five to six years old. It is aimed at the age category roughly six to thirteen years old and even adults will find things in it that might interest them. »
The topography of Prague
Prague readers will find in this book the topography of their city which is however transfigured by the fantastic perspective of the author. The city is cut in two parts by a river which looks a lot like the Vltava, the author takes his readers to the municipal halls which strongly resemble those found in the Prague district of Holešovice and some episodes of the novel are set in the décor reminiscent of the Karlín district.
In this world, populated by fantastical creatures, where imagination blends with reality, cat-eyed trucks transport suspicious goods, submarines covered with scales and endowed with fins criss-cross the river and men- fish are playing cards in a tavern at the bottom of the water and are served by a toad disguised as a waitress. The old Roman rotundas are transformed into rockets which can transport passengers and at the same time become an almost inexhaustible source of energy for the industry of Glutaman.
how to write for kids
The author skilfully mixes realistic and fantastical elements and alternates comic moments with chills of horror. The episode located in Glutaman’s factory where a gigantic ham is cut by a huge slicer which risks also slicing the little heroes of the book who have gotten lost there, recalls the famous short story The Well and the Pendulum of Edgar Allan Poe. Bogdan Trojak doesn’t make much difference when writing for children or for adults:
“I wrote it as it had been for adult readers. When you’re writing for kids, maybe you have to pay a little more attention to vocabulary. I tend to use quite an opulent vocabulary, so in that sense sometimes I have to tone myself down a bit. But I don’t see children as readers with a lesser ability to understand story and plot. Children are intelligent and I don’t have a special approach when I write for them except for the concern of sometimes looking for a word that would be more understandable. »
Bogdan Trojak, a winemaker poet
Literature, however, is not Bogdan Trojak’s only field of action. This renowned poet and winner of the Jiří Orten and Magnesia Litera prizes for his poetry, author of highly appreciated short stories and translator of Polish poetry, decided at the height of his career to retire from the literary world and took refuge in the village of Bořetice in Moravia of the South to cultivate the vine. Today he leads a dual career. He writes, but he is also a winegrower who produces wine in a natural way, that is to say without chemical ingredients. He says of his product that it is an authentic wine. The search for authenticity therefore marks everything he does. One could say that he cultivates the vine and literature in the same way.