This is a strange, hybrid book, or a publisher’s folly, whichever you prefer. Instead of translating all of Ivan Klima’s most recent Nineties collection, Intimate Conversations, his publishers have mysteriously opted to translate half of it and bulk out the volume with stories from a previously untranslated Sixties collection entitled Lovers for a Day. Unfortunately, the standard of the early stories is below that of Klima’s mature work, and as they are in chronological order, the weakest material all appears en masse at the beginning. After the first fifty pages, anyone new to his writing might reasonably wonder what the fuss is about.
The one gem among the early stories is ‘Lingula’, written in 1962, when Klima was thirty-one. Lingula (meaning a bristly brachiopod worm) is the nickname given to a charismatic young woman by a zoology student, who impulsively whisks her away on a directionless train journey. She is stony and unresponsive,