A Slovak writer's Pegasus Prize-winning debut novel--first published in installments in the Czech underground--tells a tragic tale of misery as a young man struggles with a sensitive, caring nature while under the thumb of the repressive, unfeeling state. In a story largely autobiographical, the narrator Milan quits his refinery job in Bratislava, taking a summer off to find himself. A dedicated but noncompetitive marathon runner, he pushes his body ruthlessly, running in the Slovak hills to escape thoughts of his inadequacy and unhappy home. His father is in prison for his subversive views, leaving his diabetic wife without the will to live and his son without a chance for a university education. Milan becomes a hospital orderly, prepping patients for neurosurgery; but when most of his charges die after gruesome operations, he loses his stomach for the job. Meanwhile, with his beautiful lover Tania in college, he feels insecure about the gap between them, almost losing her to more accomplished admirers until the crisis of an ectopic pregnancy bonds them together. A few years later, married and living in a rundown suburban house, Milan has returned to orderly duties, handling abortion cases but shifting to maternity when Tania becomes pregnant again. Even in this life-affirming setting, however, his misery continues: He has a fling with a former abortion patient, witnesses the birth of a deformed monster, and when his own child is born far too early and dies, he is unable to stop its being burned along with other waste in the hospital furnace. Graphic, ghastly, full of bile and bitterness--but also a strikingly realistic, insightful portrayal of human strength and frailty.