Published in Czechoslovakia in 1967, at the very giddy height of the Prague Spring, Paral's novel has a heedless propulsion and comic complexity that, to a home audience, must have seemed irresistible. It is the story of Jacek Jost, a chemical engineer in his 30s who is tiring of his job and his wife. Sent by rail all around the country on business, he encounters a young woman on the train; a tryst ensues. But more crucially for Jacek, a sort of stopper is removed, and his appetites and dissatisfactions bloom outrageously. A personal ad passing himself off as a divorcÇ looking for something better brings a hundred responses; after winnowing, he settles for six other women of different sorts. This frantic Don Juanism is funny mostly for the fact that Jack is so ill-suited for it. He wants change, but change comes in the guise of other responsibilities, other familial pressures—at which point he wonders whether there's not something to be said for staying with wife Lenka and their toddler-darling Lenicka. In a whooshing, pell-mell style, Paral makes this tale of the id-becoming-idiot sprightly and attractive. The book has none of the political "humor" of Skvorecky or Kundera, but it does present a portrait of anything-but-this that certainly reads as recognizable—especially considering what we know about Czech fate then and now.
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