War With the Newts

Karel Capek

translated from the Czech by Eswald Osers
Unwin 1985 [1937]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2005 http://dannyreviews.com/
A Czech captain discovers a species of giant salamander off the west coast of Sumatra. Finding them intelligent and trainable, he befriends them, gives them tools, and brings them to the attention of a captain of industry, who finds a use for them as cheap labour, first in collecting pearls and then in underwater construction. They multiply and continue to learn, rising further and further "up the ladder of civilisation" until they threaten the human species itself...

The fanciful scenario of War With the Newts allows Capek to take satirical look at everything from corporate greed to rich American tourists. He describes responses to the Newts by politicians, big business, churches, communists, educational reformers, militarists, scientists, the League of Nations, organised labour, learned societies, racists, lawyers, and every other handy target for satire. This is mostly lighthearted, but has a dark undercurrent in places, reflecting the clouds looming over Europe when Capek was writing: perhaps the most disturbing section is a report from a German scientist carrying out murderous experiments on Newt subjects. War With the Newts is entertaining but, first published in 1936, it is also a penetrating dissection of the late 1930s.

November 2005

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%T War With the Newts
%A Capek, Karel
%M Czech
%F Osers, Eswald
%I Unwin
%D 1985 [1937]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0048233080
%P 241pp