Jiří Weil czech pronuniation (help·info) (1900–1959) was a Czechoslovakian writer. He was Jewish. His noted works include the two novels Life with a Star (Život s hvězdou), Mendelssohn Is on the Roof (Na střeše je Mendelssohn) and many short stories as well as other novels.
In 1942, like all Jews in Prague he was summoned for deportation to a concentration camp, but escaped and went into hiding for the remainder of World War II. In 1949 he wrote Life with a Star about Jewish life in Prague before the transports. He died in Prague in 1959.
Jiří Weil was born in Praskolesy, a village about 40 kilometers outside Prague on August 6, 1900. He was the second son born to upper-middle-class Orthodox Jewish parents. Weil graduated from secondary school in 1919. As a student he had already begun writing mainly verses, but had also begun planning his three-part novel, Mesto, which he planned to publish under the pseudonym, Jiri Wilde. Upon graduation, Weil was accepted to Charles University in Prague where he entered the Department of Philosophy and also studied Slavic philology and comparative literature. He completed his doctoral dissertation, Gogol and the English Novel of the 18th Century, in 1928.
In 1921, Weil joined the Young Communists and eventually attained a position of leadership in the group. He had a keen interest in Russian literature and Soviet culture. About that same time, his first articles were published about cultural life in the Soviet Union in the Newspaper “Rudé Právo.” He also became one of the first translators of contemporary Russian literature into the Czech language and translated works by Boris Pasternak, Vladimir Lugovskoy and Marina Tsvetaeva. He was the first person to translate the works of Vladimir Mayakovsky into Czech. His aim in bringing post-1917 Soviet literature to the Czech people was to increase awareness of the cultural significance of the Revolution.
In 1922, Weil traveled for the first time with a youth delegation to the Soviet Union. The trip inspired him to write the cultural history, “Busta basnikova”. Weil worked in Moscow from 1933 to 1935 as a journalist and translator of mainly Marxist literature and worked for Comintern, a publisher of foreign-language texts for the Communist reader. In this capacity, he helped translate Lenin’s “The State and Revolution” into Czech. After the 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov, a protégé of Stalin accused of conspiring with Trotsky to wrest control of the party, Weil found himself on very shaky ground in Moscow and in the Communist party. He was expelled from the Communist Party and exiled to Central Asia. The circumstances of his involvement with the conspiracy and his subsequent deportation to Central Asia have never been fully explained, but these experiences marked a turning point for Weil. He set aside all political aspiration and affiliations and focused on his writing.
In 1935, Weil returned to Prague, and by 1938 was working at the Jewish Museum in Prague. After the Munich Agreement was signed in 1938, heralding trouble for Europe’s Jewish population, friends of Weil’s arranged for him to flee to England, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave. World War II experiences resulted in many Jewish themes emerging in his writing.
Weil was called to a transport in November 1942, but he decided not to go, settling rather on staging his own death by pretending to commit suicide. Weil survived the rest of the war by hiding in various illegal apartments, with several acquaintances and even spent time hiding in a hospital. Despite the tremendous hardship, Weil continued to write. After the war, Weil reintegrated into cultural life and from 1946 to 1948, he edited the literary magazine, “Literarni noviny”. In 1948, Weil lost his position at the press that published the magazine and the press was nationalized.
From 1948 on, Weil began focusing more on the Jewish themes he had already begun exploring in his work. His book Life with a Star, published without fanfare in 1948, is probably his best-known work. It received varying critical attention, but a firestorm of controversy over it erupted in 1951. Critics decried it as “decadent”, “existentialist”, “highly subjective” and “the product of a cowardly culture.” It was roundly criticized from both an ideological and a religious standpoint and was banned. Undeterred, Weil worked continuously until his death from cancer in 1959. In recent years, Weil's "Star" is considered a classic. According to Philip Roth (who was largely responsible for introducing Weil to American readers) the book is "without a doubt, one of the outstanding novels I've read about the fate of a Jew under the Nazis. I don't know another like it." Michiko Kakutani adds that it is "one of the most powerful works to emerge from the Holocaust: it is a fierce and necessary work of art."
Beyond "Star" and "Mendelssohn" Weil's fiction is woefully underrepresented in English-language translations. A limited edition of "Colors," was recently available through University of Missouri Press but it is already out of print. At this time, "Moscu-Frontera" (Moscow Border) and "Leben mit dem Stern" remain untranslated in English.
The 110th anniversary of the birth of Jiří Weil is reminded by premiere of concert performance of a ballet "MAKANNA" written by Czech composer and organist Irena Kosíková; based on his novel MAKANNA. Concert "MAKANNA" feature Jan Židlický - narrator, Czech cellist František Brikcius and Talich Chamber Orchestra conducted by Maestro Jan Talich. "MAKANNA" is held under the auspices of Sir Tom Stoppard and Václav Havel to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the birth of Jiří Weil (1900-1959) and as part of the "Daniel Pearl World Music Days". In the cooperation with the National Gallery, the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Talich Chamber Orchestra and the City of Prague.