European Literature Days 2016: Review of Ondřej Buddeus by Lena Gorelik

Some children’s books are not children’s books, because they are not intended as books for children. They’re books for bookworms and those who love everything about them: not just a narrated story, not merely the characters, but the pages. Each picture, each illustration, every word, even the font style, the paper, the smell of a new and an old book. The book cover and bookmark, as well as questions behind the book. You could say – the book within the book.

Kopf im Kopf (Head in the Head) is this genre of book. It’s a book within a book, and another inside that, so to say another ‘book in a book’. There are words, sentences, questions; there are illustrations and some pages bigger than others, as well as fold-out pages, perforated pages, which you can see through, and pages to turn around so you can read them. There are pages to read, review, marvel at, laugh at and pages to touch. They fit together, while now they don’t fit.

What’s the point? It’s all about the head. About the head as an organ, as a word, as a transmitter of thoughts, as an idea, and the head as a bearer of pain or hair. I can picture the Czech writers and illustrators, David Böhm and Ondřej Buddeus, working together something like this: two artists sit together, they’re slouching on an old sofa or sitting on a wooden table covered with a plastic tablecloth; they’re knocking back a Czech beer – yes, I like all clichés – and collect everything they think of about the topic of the ‘head’, (obviously, I’m brimming with easy wordplays). “Bounty!” (Kopfgeld!), one of them utters, for instance, whereupon the other starts to sketch… a ‘wanted poster’, declaring the bounty price. “Nose!”, the other interjects, and because it’s dark and there is a curious atmosphere where you can say everything, he asks, “Why do we have a nose, actually?” The other momentarily makes note of this, so the lines appear below, “to land someone one on the nose, to get one’s own house in order, to get ahead, to turn up one’s nose and stick one’s nose in a book”, and so on. This precise miscellany of associations appears later in the book beside an illustration – what else? – of a nose.

This is not a book to read from front- to back cover. You cannot read it the other way around from back to front. Perhaps it’s not even possible to read it. You can browse in it; you can pick out something like a chocolate from these exquisite gold-edged boxes. For example, you can read the answer to the question, “If my head were as big as a water tower, would I be the smartest person in the whole world?”, or the wonderful, easily confusing topsy-turvy comic for the brain, “Die Geschichte vom Vogellippler”. When you think about things related to the head, you can look at the picture of a Cubist head or delight in the many – most affectionately sketched – metaphors that spring to mind, (that’s yet another unavoidable wordplay!): from ‘loaf’ (slang for ‘head’) to brainteaser (Kopfnuss). And you can store all that in your head – or perhaps not.

By Lena Gorelik

Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

   This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe website on 26 January 2017.

Category: ELit Literature House Europe Observatory

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