An elliptical novel that encompasses history, anarchy, and love.
Translated from the Czech, Platzová's (Aaron’s Leap, 2014) latest bridges a century of social foment, as it involves the attempt by a contemporary Czech historian, during the Occupy Wall Street movement, to shed some light on what might be an anarchist in his closet. The setup is a little unwieldy: on the basis of conjecture and tangential evidence bequeathed to him by his best friend, a middle-aged historian who was raised in Prague but now lives in Manhattan thinks he might be related to a notorious anarchist who attempted to murder an American tycoon in the early 20th century. His investigation leads him to correspondence between the tycoon’s heirs and to a meeting with one who has repudiated that legacy and become a nun. There is also plenty of correspondence between the anarchist and his lover/comrade. And after the first section of the novel flashes between the present and the past, with the protagonist narrating in the first person, the second part is a notebook by his late friend detailing the lives of the deported anarchists, the lovers whose principles preclude monogamy. The reader thus works his or her way through a lot of structural baggage to arrive at the novel’s essence as it explores anarchy through the broader contexts of environmental apocalypse and capitalism’s self-destruction. One character believes that anarchy is “the only social theory based on human goodness,” though the anarchist to whom the narrator might be related ultimately believes that “Man can’t be reduced to his role in the hierarchy of economic relations. The problem lies elsewhere. Money is just a derivative evil. It isn’t enough to change the economic order!” The narrator’s excavation of the past puts the Occupy movement in different perspective by the time the novel concludes. As for the mystery of the blood ties that spurred his research, “it made no difference” whether he was related to the anarchist or not.
The past illuminates the present, though it takes a while for the novel to find the light.