One of the last artistic expressions of life under communism, this novel captures the atmosphere in Prague between 1983 and 1987, where a dance could be broken up by the secret police, a traffic offence could lead to surveillance and where contraband books were the currency of the underworld.
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Czech
Once again, Kl¡ma (Judge on Trial, 1993, etc.) skillfully explores Prague life under the Communist regime in the trying years before the Velvet Revolution. This time around, Kl¡ma offers six stories in which a writer (the author's afterword suggests it is the same writer throughout) finds himself working as everything from a courier to an archaeologist to a surveyor. Sometimes the writer finds pleasure in his new employment: In ``The Engine Driver's Story,'' he dreams of driving a locomotive, despite the fact that his ``non-existent psychoanalyst'' insists that the dream is not about trains but about missed opportunities. Sometimes he finds his new job distasteful: In ``The Smuggler's Story,'' he consoles himself with the fact that ``in the conditions prevailing here, it is rare for someone to be doing what he was trained to do, or what he is suited for'' as he struggles to outwit the police with three bags of contraband books. But the beauty of this particular collection (after all, these themes of conscience, oppression, and expression are par for the course with Kl¡ma) lies in the sense of liberty and hope it offers when the writer reaps the unexpected benefits of new experiences. A talentless painter-by-default draws his first true likeness when he must identify a young girl he saw just before she committed suicide; an archaeologist interested in human origins finds the courage to admit (at least to himself) to hearing the voices of the home spirits in a 2,500-year-old burial ground. Few writers have the talent or insight to infuse old themes with new life when, according to Kl¡ma's narrator, ``we have declared progress to be our idol'' so that ``the furious hunt for novelty [has become] diseased and self-destructive.'' But in this piercing, rich collection, Kl¡ma does just that. A master delivers. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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