A promising US debut by Czech expatriate Sovakova, now living in Paris, who appears here with her first novel, which won the European Prize for Fiction in 1984. The young woman narrator experiences first the harshness of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, then the subsequent Communist takeover. Eager to fulfill her father's ambitions for her, however, she is determined to have a career, not to be sidetracked into marriage and children. But her family is punished by the Communists, and she, despite a brilliant record, is denied entrance to the university. In the meantime, the physically exhausting job she holds precipitates a collapse, and she is sent to a hospital, where she meets a young doctor, whose marriage proposal she accepts because she knows she will not survive if she returns to her old job. Rudolf, selfish and demanding, wants her to be his slave, but once she finds a job teaching Russian to factory workers she gains a degree of freedom. Then her students' gift of Iris, a cat, provokes a crisis--she and Rudolf must find alternative accommodation. Through her hardships, her deepest affections have been reserved for cats--""the absolute and most intricate attraction I have ever known concerns cats."" When Iris dies during the move to the larger apartment that her colleagues have found her, the young woman grieves. But she also realizes that the more spacious apartment, which will free her from Rudolf, together with an opportunity to study Russian at the university, will be her salvation. ""There is no cruelty against the dead,"" she reluctantly concludes. She can see a way out at last. A moving and understated tale of courage by a young survivor living in a society where just to endure is sufficient victory. An accomplished new voice from Europe.