Dig Deeper

The cutting room floor is full of passages that I still really love but that didn't quite fit in the book. I have a particularly soft spot for Beit Terezín, and this intro from the original manuscript gives you more of an idea of its beautiful history. The dream of a permanent living monument to the Nazis' model camp first took hold in May 1955, at a gathering in Israel of about one hundred and fifty survivors. Its primary stated aim was to honour the memory of those who had perished in the Holocaust, but those gathered identified another, much more practical, need for such an institution. Back in Czechoslovakia, the Communist regime was recasting the Holocaust to exclude Jews as the primary targets of Nazi barbarism. Indeed, annihilation of Czech Jewry was, in the new regime's eyes, merely coincidental. Jews featured prominently amongst the political prisoners and intelligentsia who met their deaths in either the Small Fortress, that corner of Theresienstadt used as both prison and execution ground, or in the death camps to the east, and this accounted for the disproportionate number of them in the final tally. But it was for their political affiliations that they were targeted,...

In the original manuscript of The Book of Dirt, when Jakub and his friends are farewelling Jiri Langer at the pub, Langer gets into an argument with Pavel Stein (a character who, alas, remains on the cutting room floor). Stein is angry that Langer would abandon his homeland in pursuit of a fool's errand. To make his point, Stein tells the old Hassidic story of Eisek Yekls, knowing that Langer himself had used it in his book, The Nine Gates. You might recognise it as the story on which Paolo Coelho based The Alchemist. *** “L’chaim!” Josef thrust his glass forward awkwardly, hoping to avoid further argument. “To my brother and his ever-shifting ideals! To the last, great wandering Jew.” “He’ll be back.” Stein would not let go. “Jiří knows all too well what is written in the Talmud: If somebody tells you I have looked but did not find, do not believe him. And if he tells you I did not look but I have found, also do not believe him. But if he tells you: I have looked and I have found, you must believe him for he speaks the truth. Yes, after the war he’ll return. Mark my words.” Jiři blushed....

In its initial incarnation, The Book of Dirt was to be presented as a "found manuscript". The structure would take the form of Talmudic pages, with a central narrative and surrounding commentaries. I'll be posting a sample page soon, but in the meantime, here's the original prologue. It's kind of embarrassing and overdone in parts, and it's pretty long, but hey, it's also kind of fun. So here goes: A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER ON THE SECOND EDITION OF PRESSER’S “THE BOOK OF DIRT” I first discovered The Book of Dirt while on holiday in the Czech Republic. A colleague had given me a list of her favourite Prague bookstores, literary oases far removed from the throng of tourists that infest the more popular historical sites, and told me that I was to visit any one of them whenever I needed an escape. There are many things to love about these stores, she said, not the least of which is the vast selection of novels by Czech authors that are published by small independent houses and that never find their way to the outside world. She then joked about the tax deductibility of the trip should I happen to acquire one of...

Come back after The Book of Dirt’s release for new developments and further musings on the search for Jakub and Daša, plus exclusive access to extracts from the cutting room floor and answers to some of your more frequently asked questions....