CATAPULT by Vladimír Páral


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Published in Czechoslovakia in 1967, at the very giddy height of the Prague Spring, Paral's novel has a heedless propulsion and comic complexity that, to a home audience, must have seemed irresistible. It is the story of Jacek Jost, a chemical engineer in his 30s who is tiring of his job and his wife. Sent by rail all around the country on business, he encounters a young woman on the train; a tryst ensues. But more crucially for Jacek, a sort of stopper is removed, and his appetites and dissatisfactions bloom outrageously. A personal ad passing himself off as a divorcÇ looking for something better brings a hundred responses; after winnowing, he settles for six other women of different sorts. This frantic Don Juanism is funny mostly for the fact that Jack is so ill-suited for it. He wants change, but change comes in the guise of other responsibilities, other familial pressures--at which point he wonders whether there's not something to be said for staying with wife Lenka and their toddler-darling Lenicka. In a whooshing, pell-mell style, Paral makes this tale of the id-becoming-idiot sprightly and attractive. The book has none of the political "humor" of Skvorecky or Kundera, but it does present a portrait of anything-but-this that certainly reads as recognizable--especially considering what we know about Czech fate then and now.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1989
ISBN: 945774-04-4
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