More innovative fiction from the critically esteemed Slouka (God’s Fool, 2002, etc.): a subtle, nimble novel that’s part fictional memoir, part literary thriller/romance.
The American child of Czech-born Antonín and Ivana, our unnamed narrator grows up amid affection but also enduring mystery. He eavesdrops on his parents’ get-togethers with fellow émigrés, revels in their folktales and anecdotes of Czechoslovakia, but increasingly wonders about the nagging lacunae. Most of all, he’s vexed by his mother’s implacable sadness and intrigued by Antonín’s quiet acceptance of it. Ivana eventually commits suicide, and her 37-year-old son goes to Czechoslovakia, armed with clues, artifacts and snippets he hopes will help him make sense of himself by making sense of his parents. Here the text takes an odd, delightful turn. Balked in his effort to unearth facts, the narrator turns to fiction. In the book’s second half, he invents a love triangle involving his parents and a member of the Czech Resistance. Tomás was, in this imagining, one of the partisans who in 1942 assassinated notorious Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, Reichsprotektor of Czechoslovakia, and then hid in a catacomb, waiting for an opportunity to escape while the Nazis massacred their countrymen in reprisal. Marred only slightly by the romance’s hokey, fairytale quality, this love song to the narrator’s parents is deftly structured, lyrical and earnest.
An eloquent testament to the power of storytelling.