THE VIEW FROM STALIN’S HEAD by Aaron Hamburger

THE VIEW FROM STALIN’S HEAD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Ten debut stories find Western expatriates settled—and, more usually, unsettled—in 1990s Prague.

Several of the expats are gay men seeking love but making do with sex, mostly with unresponsive or emotionally neutral partners. The unnamed narrator of “Exile,” for example, is an American-Jewish artist who supports himself with pornographic drawings, checking out Czech males to little effect, and returning to the States still unsure whether he’s a real Jew. The protagonist of “A Man of the Country” achieves sexual gratification with Jirka, his affable, casually sensual English-language student—but realizes that he’s only a momentary blip on Jirka’s kaleidoscopic radar screen. And in “Garage Sale,” Canadian teacher Donald quietly accepts exploitation by both the male dancer who squeezes him for “loans” and the cultured woman whom he dutifully marries. Hamburger offers fairly conventional satire on outsiders otherwise attracted by Prague’s dark romantic history, such as Rachel (in “Jerusalem”), who finds herself drawn to an intense Jewish theology student yet finds the strength to dump him when she realizes his religiosity is her rival; and Debra (of “You Say You Want a Revolution”), “a rich girl in revolutionary’s clothing” whose fiery espousal of what she labels “New Socialism” alienates her from American friends and Czech colleagues alike. Such stories are less interesting than “Control,” which reveals the avaricious derelictions of a checkpoint security guard, and than the two best pieces here: “The Ground You Are Standing On,” about the tourist Sarah Schroeder, who discovers, in evidence of ongoing anti-Semitism, her determination “to become a better Jew”; and “Law of Return,” about the American Michael, who overcomes a lifetime of passive indecision by declaring his Judaism and moving with his male cousin (and lover) to Israel.

Interesting premises developed with varying success: an uneven yet promising first volume.

Pub Date: March 16th, 2004
ISBN: 0-8129-7093-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2003