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by Ivan Klíma

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8021-1695-7
Publisher: Grove

Czech author Klíma (Lovers for a Day, 1999, etc.) returns with a tale about the emotionally lost in contemporary Prague: modern lives haunted by the history of Soviet incursion.

Kristýna is a middle-aged dentist in Prague; Jana is her wild daughter, experimenting with sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll; and Jan is the boyish investigator who splits their ages and becomes Kristýna’s lover. Kristýna is haunted by the infidelities of her father, her ex-husband (now convalescing and a spouter of insane but enlightening philosophy when she visits), and eventually also of Jan, who can’t resist an old flame and hasn’t yet learned to lie about it. Kristýna and he struggle for love, but the country’s baggage is too much for them to bear. Jan is too young, Kristýna too old, and Jana too wild—eventually she gets gang-raped while on heroin and needs to be put into recovery programs. The adventures of the three reveal that even the emergence from Soviet repression into something closer to freedom comes with a set of conflicts and difficulties, and whether these characters will find redemption for themselves and forgiveness for each other will be the story’s final word on love in modern eastern Europe. Klíma’s writing here sometimes meanders aimlessly as alternating narrators describe and critique the world about them, but it’s hard to know whether the fault lies with the author or the unimaginative translation that comes with a significant UK bent. It’s slow-going at first, but eventually these lives come to have meaning and import, and the reader wants them to find what they are looking for. It’s never so moving as when Kristýna’s ex-husband finally dies: “His dead eyes seem to look straight at me. I really didn’t think I’d be the one to close his eyelids.”

Not quite as deep as it wants to be, but pensively sad in how sheltered it feels, like people crawling from a tomb.