Set against the complex, turbulent political and cultural tableau of central Europe, Pehe’s sweeping novel confronts the...


An expansive, multigenerational novel about Western Europe that takes on the big questions.

Besides being a novelist, Pehe is a political analyst and was an adviser to Czech President Václav Havel. This is the second novel in an ambitious trilogy, the first to be translated into English (by Turner). In Wim Wenders’ acclaimed film Wings of Desire, set in West Berlin, unseen angels watch over their human charges. Here, an angel, Ariel, visits three generations of a Czech family, the Brehmes, from the late 19th century to the early 21st. Pehe’s wide-ranging story touches on two world wars, the Holocaust, Soviet expansionism and its demise, ending in New York City on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In the first part, Ariel instructs Joseph Brehme to write a long letter to his mother, who abandoned him when he was 6. It’s 1940; he’s 40 years old. We learn he grew up in “two linguistic worlds” (Czech/German) and studied music and violin in the bustling, creative Prague of Jaroslav Hašek, Max Brod, and Alfons Mucha. He fought in a Czech brigade in 1914 and lost two fingers. Part 2 opens in 1968 during the Prague Spring. Hanna, Joseph’s daughter, is confined to a psychiatric hospital. Under Ariel’s influence, she takes pen to paper to tell her harrowing story of being taken in by Jewish grandparents and hiding to escape the German occupation of Prague. As Hanna writes, “I must…most of all try to explain it.” Her section is highly affecting and well-drawn. The third part, weakest of the three, opens in 2001. Hanna’s son, Alex, a famous, disillusioned American professor, feels Ariel’s influence in the guise of his girlfriend, Leira. His diary completes Pehe’s powerful saga of this Czech family.

Set against the complex, turbulent political and cultural tableau of central Europe, Pehe’s sweeping novel confronts the existential questions concerning God’s existence and man’s brutality to man.

Pub Date: Dec. 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9568890-4-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Jantar Publishing/Dufour

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

Did you like this book?

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...


An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet