My rating: 3 stars
My Golden Trades is a collection of six short stories which reads like a fictional memoir. Written by the Czech author Ivan Klíma, all the stories have as narrator a banned writer and are set in the 1980s in Czechoslovakia, which was still in the grip of a repressive communist regime. The plots of the majority of the stories are not particularly engrossing. What makes them somewhat interesting are the social and political considerations made throughout.
Each story either takes place while the narrator is performing a particular job or explains how he came to be involved in a specific occupation. He had to smuggle forbidden books, pass a day at his sister’s house in order to try to paint a landscape, work as an archaeologist, become an engine driver, and spend some time both working as a courier and as a surveyor’s assistant.
The only tale that I actually enjoyed reading for the plot alone was ‘The Archaeologist’s Story’, which takes place while the narrator was working at a Celtic burial ground. However, I didn’t get to read it in its entirety, because there is a page missing from my edition. That was particularly unfortunate, since not only its plot is gripping, but some interesting considerations are made about various topics. These include the fear of nuclear war, the possibility of an afterlife, some fields of study being considered uneconomic, and how we sometimes only understand our homeland when we are away. Another noteworthy element of this story is that one of the topics mentioned is still extremely relevant today – immigrants being used as scapegoats. Continue reading