HOW I CAME TO KNOW FISH by Ota Pavel

HOW I CAME TO KNOW FISH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Czech writer Pavel published prolifically before his death in 1973. These sketches, the first US appearance of his work, are deftly woven into a moving, bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a boy who fished with his father until the German occupation--and who then witnessed his pastoral world fall victim to the Nazis. The early sketches evoke a magical world filtered through familial love. In ""Concert,"" the narrator and Papa, a vacuum-cleaner salesman, are initiated into the world of fishing by ""Uncle"" Prosek, the local ferryman. ""You're the tops!"" the narrator hears when he catches ""My First Fish."" In ""Under Sima's Rock,"" we're taken further back into a glowing world where ""life was a carnival."" Papa buys a pond stocked with carp (""The Most Expensive Fish in Central Europe""), whereupon he experiences a ""long period of extraordinary happiness"" and (""In the Service of Sweden"") develops a long-lasting crash on Irma, the wife of his company's general manager. Then the idyll ends, and the mood turns somber: the Germans confiscate the carp pond, and we understand for the first time that the family is Jewish. The boys are sent off to a concentration camp, as is Papa, but not before he steals back all of his own carp and kills a deer for his sons to eat before the rigors of the camps. Finally, the last pieces, set after the war, elegiacally memorialize Papa and his world, now diminished, before the narrator goes mad for five years but avoids suicide because ""my desire to kiss the river and catch the silver fish again kept me going."" A collection that works its magic quietly: even the narrator fails to realize until the epilogue how much damage he had had to live through.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Story Line (Three Oaks Farm, Brownsville, OR 97327)