The War With the Newts – Karel Čapek

Captain van Toch, in search of pearls, finds a lagoon where newt-like creatures, about the size of a ten-years-old, live. He gets a wonderful plan. 

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The reality is a war, with the newts (I hope I don’t spoil anything by mentioning the title of the book).

I know some have read this book with a focus on the escalations to world war two. I read it with an environmental pair of glasses. The newts represent how humans have used the earth’s resources. It’s also interesting to read how the newts are both treaded as something similar to humans, and as something de-humans. In a similar way to how humans humanized and de-humanized other kinds of animals. The themes, as I read it, is about hubris.

I would recommend this book to anyone who love black comedies (preferably the British kind). Karel manages beautifully to weave the narrative with absurd, yet logical actions and language. The narration is in a faux-documentary style, with newspaper articles and research papers. The book present them as footnotes, which can fill several pages. He explains everything in a matter-of-fact, which can at times become absurd. It’s this matter-of-fact voice, no matter what he is talking about, which makes the narration so funny. You as a reader want to know how much further down the rabbit hole goes. Then how much further up the rabbit hole goes. Yet, he never crosses the line to the too absurd. You’re never forced to accept something that wouldn’t be a part of the logical rules of the world, our world, that he presents.

The book is a cautionary tale, much books of this kind are, but it’s also a matter of fact book. Humans will destroy themselves one way or the other. The ending illustrates this dichotomy. The author starts debating with the narrator about the fate of the humans. In one end, no, they are ruined. On the other hand, the author wants to have hope. Not because humans deserve it, or because it’s realistic, but because he is guilted into having it.

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