We have to be careful about foreign reality. Debutant British critics, keen to show the visas on their passports, like to overpraise the luxuriant imaginings of exotic writers while diminishing the scrubby, arid little fancyings of their UK counterparts. But the disparity is often not one of imagination at all. Here is Gabriel García Marquez, fed up with being routinely lauded for his magical qualities: 'It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.'
So it is in other parts of the world too, perhaps especially in countries where an ideological state imposes a false, official reality on its citizens, whose personal reality is then steered towards the fantastical, the whimsical, the lurid. In Bohumil Hrabal's short story, 'Want To See Golden Prague?' a