A beautifully imagined and deeply moving portrayal of temporal and spiritual conflict and crisis, from the ever-improving Czech author of such compelling fictions as Love and Garbage (1991) and Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light (1995). Kl°ma's subject here is Reverend Daniel Vedra, a faithful minister to his varied congregation (which includes the prisoner he dutifully counsels) and a devoted husband and father to his family of four. But Daniel harbors a guilty secret: his ``inability to be intimate,'' to share his inmost feelings, with his plain, submissive second wife Hana; for, as Hana knows all too well, ``his heart belonged to the one who had died.'' Memories of his beautiful first wife Jitka, a cancer victim, indeed preclude Daniel's full involvement in the lives he pretends to share--until he is pursued by a seductive parishioner, a married woman resembling Jitka, and persuades himself that consenting to love is the greatest good he can do. Kl°ma examines this seemingly familiar story from a fascinating variety of perspectives, including Daniel's tortured diary entries and evasive exchanges of letters with correspondents and confidants past and present--and also focuses on Hana's quiet acceptance of her husband's distance as well as on her own reluctant (and innocent) friendship with Matou Volek, a gifted linguist scarred by a combative marriage and attracted by Hana's very placidity. What makes this novel so absorbing, and so painful, is Kl°ma's intense concentration on his characters' perturbed and perversely resourceful moral natures; their desperate self- justifying, and ultimate surrender to the consequences of their actions. A work of great analytical power that transforms discourse and thought into harrowing drama. Kl°ma's best yet.