Medieval Bohemia, the petty nobility nothing more than highwaymen, literally robber barons, and the king has to dispatch troops to restore order. Marketa Lazarová was promised to God at birth, destined to live her life in a convent, but she is abducted by one of the neighboring Kozlík clan and discovers her sensual self. Told in shifting perspectives, mixing the archaic with the modern, the elevated with the vulgar, Vančura's tale is a compressed epic, less historical novel (the history of his ancestors) than paean to honor, courage, life, carnality, and above all a love that undermines conventional notions of the profane as it shifts to a sacred outside the sanctions of religious dogma. In so doing, he shows the nexus between Crown and Church to subjugate those who prefer to follow their own natures over following imposed laws and precepts. Adopting a cinematic approach to draw the reader into the action, as if events were happening right before one's eyes, Vančura incorporates elements of his Poetist affinities from a decade earlier to create a work that deserves its place among the classics of interwar modernism. Marketa Lazarová was awarded Czechoslovakia's State Prize for Literature upon its publication in 1931 yet has been largely known by František Vláčil's 1967 film adaptation, generally considered one of the greatest achievements of Czech cinema, and unavailable in English until now.
Using the narrator to give his clear and not always objective views on what is going on and at times jumping ahead or back in time, we get a fascinating modernist take on a medieval romance (in both senses of the word). -- The Modern Novel
In a certain sense the novel is a milestone in Vančura's evolution. Just as scattered rays converge in a single golden strand in the lens of a magnifying glass, in Marketa Lazarova Vančura's creative endeavors converge in a single, undivided stream. -- Milan Kundera
[T]his is a remarkable and unusual book, particularly since archaic text is relieved with beautiful writing and contemporary asides. [...] Marketa Lazarova is a little treasure of a book for its historical value, the lusty tale it tells, and the literary worth of Vladislav Vančura's writing. - NewPages