“The devil’s neatest trick is to persuade us that he doesn’t exist.”—Giovanni Papini
It is a maxim that both rings true in our contemporary world and pervades this tragicomic novel of anxiety and evil set amid the horrors of World War II. As a gay man living in a totalitarian, patriarchal society, noted Czech writer Ladislav Fuks identified with the tragic fate of his Jewish countrymen during the Holocaust. The Cremator arises from that shared experience. Fuks presents a grotesque, dystopian world in which a dutiful father, following the strict logic of his time, liberates the souls of his loved ones by destroying their bodies—first the dead, then the living. As we watch this very human character—a character who never ceases to believe that he is doing good—become possessed by an inhuman ideology, the evil that initially permeates the novel’s atmosphere concretizes in this familiar family man. A study of the totalitarian mindset with stunning resonance for today, The Cremator is a disturbing, powerful work of literary horror.
Ladislav Fuks (1923–94) was an outstanding Czech writer whose work, consisting primarily of psychological fiction, explores themes of anxiety and life in totalitarian systems. Fuks is best known for his works of short fiction set during the Holocaust, specifically “The Cremator,” a story—later made into a film—about a worker in a crematorium, who, under the influence of Nazi propaganda, murders his entire family.
Written before the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 but not published until 1970, Of Mice and Mooshaber is Fuks’s first novel. The story takes place in an unspecified country in which the ruler has been overthrown and replaced by a dictator. The main protagonist, Mrs. Mooshaber, is an old widow whose husband was a coachman in a brewery. Her life revolves around her job as a caretaker for troublesome children, her own ungrateful children, and her fear of mice, which she tries to catch in traps. Blending elements of the grotesque with the fantastic, Fuks’s novel of heartbreaking tragedy speaks to the evil that can be found within the human soul.