Eleven dead bodies disrupt a foreign writer’s tedious life in Prague.
A lonely expat wanders the streets of Prague. His grasp of the Czech language is poor; he can communicate best with other Russian expats or in English, “the broken Latin of our times.” Working for an English-language newspaper covering local deaths or the art scene gives him a chance to observe his alien surroundings. The city and its inhabitants are gray and grim. And the surroundings are not the only monotony: the narrator is constantly finding himself confronted with corpses—11, in fact, as the title reports—and he is the only person observant enough to solve the mysteries of how they died. Kobrin’s 11 short stories, among his first to be published in America, each follow the same template. A corpse pops up, and in short order, the narrator must try to understand its circumstances. It might make sense to describe the collection as linked stories, but the book evades easy categorizations. The narrator may or may not be the same in each story, despite having overlapping names (sometimes), occupations (sometimes), and other identical details. But while the tales all follow the same formula, Kobrin’s book is still a page-turner. It’s the eclectic characters that inhabit each story that bring them to strange life—an installation artist who re-creates the scene of a school shooting in museum galleries, until the scene becomes all too real; a mall security guard who sees more than he should over the closed circuit television. Despite the book’s explicit nods to Doyle, Christie, and Sayers, though, readers expecting traditional whodunits will find instead morbid gems that ruminate as much on the cultural landscape of contemporary Eastern Europe as on the mystery at hand.
A conceptual and engaging volume in the tradition of Eastern European masters.