War with the Newts [NOOK Book]

Overview

Originally written in 1936, two years before Capek's death and three years before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, War with the Newts is considered by many to be Capek's greatest book. Working in the "fantastic" satiric tradition of Wells, Orwell, and Vonnegut, Capek chronicles the discovery of a colony of highly intelligent giant salamanders off the coast of an Indonesian island. Capek sardonically details all the reactions of the civilized world - from horror to skepticism, from intellectual fascination to ...
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War with the Newts

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Overview

Originally written in 1936, two years before Capek's death and three years before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, War with the Newts is considered by many to be Capek's greatest book. Working in the "fantastic" satiric tradition of Wells, Orwell, and Vonnegut, Capek chronicles the discovery of a colony of highly intelligent giant salamanders off the coast of an Indonesian island. Capek sardonically details all the reactions of the civilized world - from horror to skepticism, from intellectual fascination to mercantile opportunism - and the ultimate destruction from which it (and the newts) might not escape.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Issued to celebrate the centennial of Capek's birth, these three volumes testify to the versatility and timeless appeal of one of the first Czech writers to achieve world acclaim. Toward the Radical Center contains, in new or revised translations, a selection of Capek's charming short stories, essays, and travel sketches, as well as four of his major plays, including R.U.R. , a brilliant drama about the destruction of humankind by artificial people, Rossum's Universal Robots. The dangers of runaway technology, militarism, and greed are further explored in Capek's hilarious satire, War with the Newts. When Captain van Toch discovers giant, intelligent newts on a remote island off Sumatra, he teaches them to use knives to find food, fight off sharks, and collect pearls for him. When he dies, his partners turn his friendly venture into a huge international business with the newts rapidly growing in numbers and with the tools and supplies for them. The newts are taught to read, to build massive underwater projects, and to protect the shores of the countries that bought them. They become an essential and powerful part of the industrial machine, and thus warnings about their potential danger to humankind go unheeded. In the end the newts start to blow up continents to create new shores for themselves, while governments argue impotently. Issued in a new, vibrant translation, this immensely entertaining novel has lost none of its relevance and spark. Considered Capek's masterpiece, the trilogy Three Novels explores the plurality of a man and his life, the impossibility of understanding all facets of truth. In Hordubal, events leading to the murder of a brooding, solitary farmer in a small Carpathian village are presented from the perspective of the victim, the villagers, and the police. Although Hordubal's wife and her lover are convicted, their motives and actions, as well as Hordubal's, remain partly mysterious. Meteor concerns an unknown, unconscious man brought into a hospital after a plane crash and attempts by a nurse, poet, and clairvoyant to penetrate the mystery of his life. The stories they derive are convincing and at points they converge, yet the real truth cannot be known. In An Ordinary Life , a retired railway official's attempt to examine his life reveals powerful and complex aspects of his personality that have shaped his seemingly ordinary life. If you must choose, select War with the Newts , but all three volumes are recommended.-- Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park
New York Times Book Review
Capek's work has lost nothing of its freshness and luster...He is as great a delight to read today as ever.
Jackson
Brilliant.
Michael Henry Heim
One of the features of a classic in that while remaining at one with its times, it reaches out beyond them. War with the Newts fully qualifies as a classic in this sense. -- Los Angeles Times
From the Publisher
"A great writer of the past who speaks to the present in a voice brilliant, clear, honorable, blackly funny, and prophetic."

—Kurt Vonnegut

“I warmly recommend Mr. Capek’s fantasy of a world conquered by newts... He writes like H.G. Wells, but with more wit and less horror.”

—Graham Greene

“Capek’s satirical view of the abysmal craziness in Europe has something absolutely magnificent about it.”

—Thomas Mann

“The War With the Newts will never fall into oblivion... Capek is perhaps the first European writer whose novels anticipated the gruesome vision of a totalitarian world.”

—Milan Kundera

“It is time to read Capek again for his insouciant laughter, and the anguish of human blindness that lies beneath it.”

—Arthur Miller

“Proliific and terrific.”

—George Bernard Shaw

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781936053360
  • Publisher: Catbird Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/1990
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 524,150
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Czech writer Carol Capek (1890-1938) began his career as a newspaper columnist. A fervent opponent of Nazism and Communism, he wrote speculative plays and novels, such as The War With the Newts, and R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, in which he coined the word “robot,” meaning “slave.” Brilliant commentaries on the rise of fascism, they have also led to his being considered one of the founders of the sci-' and dystopian genres.
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Read an Excerpt

War with the Newts


By Karel Capek

Catbird Press

Copyright © 1936 Karel Capek
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0945774109


Chapter One

The Eccentricity of Captain van Toch

If you were to took for the little island of Tana Masa on a map you would find it right on the equator slightly to the west of Sumatra. But if you asked Captain J. van Toch of the Kandong Bandoeng what kind of place this Tana Masa was, the place off which he had just dropped anchor, he would curse for a while and then he would tell you that it was the filthiest hole in all the Sunda Islands, even more miserable than Tana Bala and at least as lousy a place as Pini or Banjak; that the only, if you'll excuse me, human being living there - disregarding, of course, those lousy Bataks - was a drunken agent, a cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese and an even greater thief, heathen and swine than a pure-bred Cuban and a pure-bred white man combined; and if there was something really lousy in this world then it was this lousy life on this lousy Tana Masa, yessir. Whereupon you, might cautiously inquire why in that case he had dropped his lousy anchor, just as if he was going to stop here for three lousy days, he'd just snort irritably and mutter something to the effect that the Kandong Bandoeng would not have sailed here just for some lousy copra or palm oil, stands to reason, doesn't it?, and anyway what business is it of yours, sir?, butI've got my damned orders, sir, and will you kindly mind your own damned business. And he'd curse as richly and colourfully as you'd expect from a sea captain who was getting on a bit but was still in good shape for his years.

But if instead of asking such nosy questions you left Captain van Toch to grumble and curse to himself you'd probably learn a lot more. Can't you see that he needs to let off steam? Just let him be and his irritability will simmer down on its own. `It's like this, sir,' the captain would burst out, `those fellows back home in Amsterdam, those damned Jews at the top, suddenly say to you: pearls, that's what it is about, my man, you look out for pearls. People apparently go nuts over pearls and suchlike.' Here the captain expectorated angrily. `Sure thing, put your money into pearls! That's because you people are always wanting to have wars or suchlike. Worried about your money, that's what it is. What's called a crisis, yessir.' Captain van Toch hesitated for a moment as to whether to embark on a discourse of the economy with you; after all, nobody talked about anything else these days. Except that out here, off Tana Masa, it's a little too hot and enervating for that. So Captain van Toch just waved his hand and grumbled: `Easily said: pearls! In Ceylon, sir, they cleared them clean out five years ago and in Formosa they've put a ban on pearl-fishing. - Why then, Captain van Toch, you'd better find some new fishing grounds. You just sail to those damned little islands, for all you know you may find whole banks of shells there - .' The captain contemptuously blew his nose into a sky-blue handkerchief. `Those rats back in Europe imagine you can still find something here that nobody else knows about! Christ Almighty, those nitwits! For two pins they'd have made me peer up the snouts of those Bataks in case they snot up pearls! New fishing grounds, my arse! There's a new brothel in Padang, for sure, but new pearl-fishing grounds? Why sir, I know these islands here like the back of my hand ... all the way from Ceylon to that lousy Clipperton Island ... If anyone thinks he can find something here to make money out of, well, good luck to him! I've been sailing these waters for thirty years and now those idiots want me to discover something new here!' Captain van Toch almost choked under this insulting demand. `Why don't they send out some greenhorn, he'd discover things for them enough to make their eyes pop - but to expect Captain van Toch ... well, sir, I ask you! In Europe you might still find something or other, but here? Surely people come down here only to sniff around for something they can guzzle up, or not even guzzle up, for something to buy and sell. Why sir, if there was anything left in these lousy tropics that was worth a brass farthing you'd find three agents standing over it and waving a dirty handkerchief to ships of seven nationalities to heave to. That's how it is, sir. I know these parts better than Her Majesty's Colonial Office, if you'll pardon me.' With an effort Captain van Toch struggled with his righteous indignation and after some further storming managed to master it. `See that pair of lazy bastards there? Those are pearl fishers from Ceylon, may God forgive me, Singhalese as the Lord made them - though why he should have done so beats me. That's what I carry now, sir, and wherever I come across a stretch of coastline that hasn't got a notice Agency or Bata Corporation or Customs Office I drop that lot into the water to rout out shells. That shorter rascal can dive to a depth of forty fathoms; over there on Princes Island he came up from forty-five fathoms with the handle of a film camera, yessir, but as for pearls - nope! Not a trace! Useless scoundrels, those Singhalese. That's the kind of lousy job I've got, sir: making out I'm buying palm oil and all the time searching for new pearl-fishing grounds. Next thing they'll expect me to do is discover some virgin continent, what? That's no job for the honest master of a merchantman, no sir. J. van Toch's not one of your damned adventurers, sir. No sir.' And so on; the sea is vast and the ocean of time is boundless: spit into it and it won't rise, or rant at your fate but you won't change it; and so, after many preliminaries and diversions, we've at last reached the point where Captain J. van Toch of the Dutch ship Kandong Bandoeng with a deep sigh and a curse climbs down into a boat to step ashore at the kampong on Tana Masa, in order to discuss a few business matters with the drunken cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese.

`Sorry, Captain,' finally said the cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese, `but there are no pearl-oysters here on Tana Masa. Those filthy Bataks,' he said with infinite loathing, `will even eat jellyfish, they're more at home in the water than on dry land, the women here stink of fish, you've no idea - what was I going to say? Ah yes, you were asking about the women.'

`And isn't there any stretch of shore,' the captain inquired, `where those Bataks don't get into the water?'

The cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese shook his head. `None, sir. Except of course Devil Bay, but that's no use to you.'

`Why not?'

`Because ... no one's allowed there, sir. Top you up, Captain?'

`Thanks. Are there any sharks there?'

`Sharks and other things,' the half-breed muttered. `It's a bad spot, sir. The Bataks wouldn't like to see anyone going there.'

`Why not?'

`There are devils there, sir. Sea devils.'

`What's a sea devil? A fish?'

`Not a fish,' the half-breed countered evasively. `Simply a devil, sir. A deep-sea devil. The Bataks call them tapa. Tapa. They're said to have their town down there, those devils. Top you up?'

`And what does ... this sea devil look like?'

The cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese shrugged. `Like a devil, sir. I saw one once - that is, only his head. I was in my boat coming back from Cape Haarlem ... and suddenly it pushed its ugly mug out of the water right in front of me.'

`Well? And what did it look like?'

`It's got a pate ... like a Batak, sir, but bald as a coot.'

`You sure it wasn't a Batak?'

`Quite sure, sir. No Batak would ever go into the water at that spot. Besides ... it blinked at me with its lower lids, sir.' The half-breed shivered with horror. `With its lower lids which came up right over its eyes. That's a tapa.'

Captain J. van Toch twisted his glass of palm wine between his fleshy fingers. `Sure you weren't drunk, eh? You weren't sloshed?'

`Of course I was, sir. Otherwise I wouldn't have rowed out there. The Bataks don't like people to ... to disturb the devils.'

Captain van Toch shook his head. `Come on, man, no such thing as devils. And if there were they'd look like Europeans. Probably was some fish or something.'

`A fish,' the cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese stammered, `a fish hasn't got any hands, sir. I'm not a Batak, sir, I went to school in Badjoeng ... perhaps I can still recite the Ten Commandments and other scientifically proved doctrines; an educated person can tell the difference between a devil and an animal. You ask the Bataks, sir.'

`Nigger superstitions, man,' the captain declared with the jovial superiority of the educated. `Scientifically it's nonsense. Surely a devil can't live in water. What would he be doing there? Shouldn't listen to natives' gossip, man. Somebody called the bay Devil Bay and the Bataks have been afraid of it ever since. That's the long and the short of it,' said the captain, bringing his massive palm down on the table. `There's nothing there, man; that's scientifically evident, isn't it?'

`Yes, sir,' agreed the half-breed who had been to school in Badjoeng. `But no man in his right senses has any business in Devil Bay.'

Captain J. van Toch turned florid. `What?' he shouted. `You filthy Cuban, you think I'm scared of your devils? We'll see about that,' he said, rising to the full majesty of his ample fourteen stone. `I'm not wasting my time here with you when I have business to attend to. But remember one thing: there are no devils in the Dutch colonies; if there are any at all, then they are in the French colonies. Yes, there might well be some there. And now get me the mayor of this lousy kampong.'

The dignitary referred to was not too difficult to find: he was squatting; next to the half-breed's shop, chewing sugar cane. He was a naked elderly gentleman, and a lot thinner than mayors as a rule come in Europe. A short way behind him, keeping an appropriate distance, squatted the entire village, complete with women and children, evidently in expectation of being filmed.

`Now listen to me, man,' Captain van Toch addressed him in Malay (he might equally well have addressed him in Dutch or in English since the venerable old Batak did not understand a word of Malay and the whole of the captain's speech had to be interpreted into the Batak dialect by the cross between at Cuban and a Portuguese; but for some reason or other the captain regarded the Malay language as more suitable). `Now listen to me, man, I need a few big strong brave fellows to go hunting with me. Understand? Hunting.'

The half-breed translated and the mayor nodded his head to indicate he understood. He thereupon turned to his wider audience and delivered a speech to them with obvious success.

`The chief says,' the half-breed interpreted, `that the whole village will go hunting with the tuan captain, where the tuan wishes.'

`There you are. You tell them we'll go shell-fishing in Devil Bay.'

There followed about a quarter of an hour of excited discussion, with the whole village taking part, especially the old women. Eventually the half-breed turned to the captain. `They're saying, sir, one can't go to Devil Bay.'

The captain grew red in the face. `And why not?'

The half-breed shrugged his shoulders. `Because of the tapa-tapa there. The devils, sir.'

The captain's face was beginning to turn puce. `Tell them if they won't come ... I'll knock all their teeth in ... I'll tear their ears off ... I'll hang them ... and that I'll burn their lousy kampong down, d'you understand?'

The half-breed translated faithfully, whereupon another lively consultation took place. In the end the half-breed turned to the captain. `They're saying, sir, they'll go and complain to the police in Padang that the tuan has threatened them. There are laws about this. The mayor says he won't leave it at that.'

Captain J. van Toch began to turn blue. `Tell him then,' he roared, `that he is ...' And he spoke for a good eleven minutes without drawing breath.

The half-breed translated as much as his vocabulary permitted, and after another prolonged but businesslike consultation among the Bataks he interpreted to the captain: `They're saying, sir, that they might be willing to drop legal proceedings if the tuan captain paid a fine to the local authorities. They say,' here he hesitated, `200 rupees; but that's a bit steep, sir. Why not offer them five.'

Captain van Toch's colour began to break up into russet blotches. At first he offered to massacre all Bataks the world over, then he came down to 300 kicks, and finally he would have settled for stuffing the mayor for the Colonial Museum in Amsterdam. The Bataks on their part came down from 200 rupees to one iron pump with a wheel and in the end insisted that the captain should, by way of a fine, give the mayor a petrol cigarette lighter. (`Give it to them, sir,' the cross between a Cuban and a Portuguese pleaded, `I've got three lighters in stock but they've got no wick.') Thus peace was restored on Tana Masa but Captain J. van Toch realised that the honour of the white race was now at stake.

In the afternoon a boat put off from the Dutch ship Kandong Bandoeng: it contained, more particularly, Captain van Toch, a Swede called Jensen, an Icelander called Gudmunson, a Finn called Gillemainen and two Singhalese pearl-fishers. The boat made straight for Devil Bay.

At three o'clock, just as the low tide was turning, the captain was standing on the beach, the boat was bobbing up and down about a hundred yards offshore to keep a look-out for sharks, and the two Singhalese divers, each with a knife in hand, were waiting for the signal to jump into the water.

`OK, you first,' the captain ordered the taller one of the naked figures. The Singhalese jumped in, waded a few steps and disappeared under the surface. The captain glanced at his watch.

Four minutes and twenty seconds later a brown head broke surface some sixty yards to the left; in a curiously desperate and at the same time paralysed rush the Singhalese scrambled up on the rocks, in one hand his knife for cutting the shells loose and in the other a pearl-oyster.

The captain scowled. `What's the matter?' he said sharply.

The Singhalese was still climbing over the boulders, gasping noisily with fright.

`What's up?' yelled the captain.

`Sahib, sahib,' the Singhalese managed to utter, sinking down on the shore and letting his breath out in gasps. `Sahib ... sahib ...'

`Sharks?'

`Djins,' the Singhalese moaned. `Devils, sir. Thousands and thousands of devils!' He dug his fists into his eyes.

Continue...


Excerpted from War with the Newts by Karel Capek Copyright © 1936 by Karel Capek
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2004

    Vonnegut meets Heinlein

    But Capek came before either of them, so he's really at the root of social-science-fiction with Orwell and Wells. This book is a humanist tale--don't treat others poorly; a communist tale--the workers seize the world from the lazy capitalists; and a vision of what blind dependence on 'machination' can do to culture--all written 70 years ago!!! Brilliant, but also complellingly readable. I would give it to any curious person over 12 (or maybe 10 these days).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2001

    Finally!

    I say finally because my AP Composition teacher, Mr. Rutstein, finally picked a book to read that I fell in love with. War with the Newts was a great exotic story, with such detail and plot that no reader can put the book down. The newts are creatures that you begin to sympathize with as the story goes on and you find yourself feeling like you actually know a newt. The story is excellent, especially if you just want easy reading with enjoyment.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2001

    Intellectual, yet entertaining

    I found it amazing that War with the Newts was written in the 1930's. Many of the messages in the book still apply. Capek wrote a brilliant satire on the possible consequences of society's exploitative tendencies, drawing the reader into a humorous book (especially with his constant attempts to make the book seem realistic and quite often succeeding) and opening eyes to the book's 'morals.' As I read how the previously-exploited newts gained control, I became not only interested in the story itself but also wondered who are the newts in today's society.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2000

    Magnificent

    War With the Newts was the most brilliant, well thoughtout, and astonishing book I have ever read. Probably the best book I have ever read and ever will read. For a book from the 30's it really had a modern impact on me. Karel Capek is a brilliant author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2014

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    Posted October 29, 2008

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