COMMIES, CROOKS, GYPSIES, SPOOKS AND POETS by Jan Novak

COMMIES, CROOKS, GYPSIES, SPOOKS AND POETS

Thirteen Books of Prague in the Year of the Great Lice Epidemic
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This exuberant account of life in post-Communist Czechoslovakia by one of its colorful prodigal sons reads much like a grand extension of its breathless title, but it fails to sustain the same punch and humor. Czech-born Novak (The Willys Dream Kit, 1985, etc.) has been in the United States for so long and is so Americanized that he now writes in English rather than Czech. Yet Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution has evoked in him a healthy dose of reflection on contemporary American life and a deep-rooted curiosity about post- Communist Eastern Europe. Novak's return to Prague with wife and two children in tow reveals familiar faces and ways as well as an unstable society in the process of reinvention. With the exception of an incident involving lice (confirming that one only truly fathoms another culture through children), many of the situations and individuals Novak discusses are already familiar to us from the mass media. These ritual encounters include buying a used car from a provincial wheeler-dealer; chasing down a gypsy pickpocket on the Charles Bridge; and battling inebriated crowds at a soccer match. The author is foremost a satirist and humorist. His tactic here is to relate his family's adventures as if he were telling their tales over several rounds of Pilsner beer in a rowdy Prague beer hall. The result is a combination of brief, uninsightful reflections and lengthier, more successful accounts of incidents and personalities, especially of the writer Bohumil Hrabal and the photographer Anton°in Kratochvil. Among the more irritating and telling quirks of Novak's style is his practice of stringing together capitalized words in a form of shorthand, describing Vaclav Havel, for instance, as ``a Coyote-in-the-Henhouse Playful President.'' Some unusual insights, but too often simply more of the familiar stories picked up by journalists, related in an excessively talkative style.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1995
ISBN: 1-883642-09-4
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995