WHITE BOOK by Pavel Kohout
Kirkus Star

WHITE BOOK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Whether or not intended as an allegorical recreation of Prague's 1968 uprising, this 1970 absurdist collage by the dissident Czech poet-playwright (Poor Murderer, p. 41l) deserves a wide American audience--for its dazzling array of satiric voices as well as its potent, if familiar, themes: suppression of truth and annihilation of the individual. ""White Paper"" is the better, earlier title, since Kohout--supposedly an early-21st-century researcher--gathers and arranges all documents relating to the mid-20th-century case of gym-and-art teacher Adam Juràcek, who, through sheer will, disproved Newton's Law of Gravity by walking on ceilings--or, as one bureaucrat puts it, he ""has maneuvered himself in various rooms in an inverse fashion."" In Town Meeting minutes, resolutions, bulletins, disclaimers, and addresses (one speaker is perfectly described as suffering from ""permanent, mental coitus interruptus""), we see the local attitude towards Juràcek's feat swing back and forth between celebration and condemnation as contradictory messages come down from the ""Head of Government."" Arrest is inevitable, on a dozen charges including ""calling forth hostile feelings against protected objects""; students fill the streets, competing leaflets fly, and a State of Emergency is declared. Since hundreds have seen Juràcek's ceiling act--among them his fearful, adoring mother, his unrequited love Katerina, and physics expert Dr. Placenta--the only possible official explanation is Mass Hypnosis, and Juràcek is turned over to the psychiatrists for ""preventive medical treatment."" Neither Dr. Malovec-Smith&Wesson nor Dr. Sigmund Angst (""Free-associate already!"") make progress, so drugs, electroshock, and a new name (""14041"") are required to instill enough ""exemplary apathy"" to keep Juràcek earthbound. Petty officialdom, self-serving memoirists, state-serving churchmen and mediquacks--all are devastatingly damned by their own words. Kohout links these documents with objective ""reconstructions"" of events, narratives in run-on sentences, paragraphs broken in mid-phrase or mid-syllable that become progressively more disjointed: Though the device provides readers with something of a challenge, it is an effective metaphor for Juràcek's mental disembowelment, just as the mad, sad, hilarious sum total of White Book is a literary equivalent for the range of feelings--all intense--with which the Juràceks of Czechoslovakia must contend every day.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Braziller