From a leading voice in the vibrant literary scene of today’s Czech Republic, a love story rooted in the atrocities of the past and tethered to fading hopes for the future
Set in Czechoslovakia between the 1940s and the 1990s, Tomáš Zmeškal’s stimulating novel focuses on one family’s tragic story of love and the unspoken. Josef meets his wife, Kveta, before the Second World War at a public lecture on Hittite culture. Kveta chooses to marry Josef over their mutual friend Hynek, but when her husband is later arrested and imprisoned for an unnamed crime, Kveta gives herself to Hynek in return for help and advice. The author explores the complexities of what is not spoken, what cannot be said, the repercussions of silence after an ordeal, the absurdity of forgotten pain, and what it is to be an outsider.
In Zmeškal’s tale, told not chronologically but rather as a mosaic of events, time progresses unevenly and unpredictably, as does one’s understanding. The saga belongs to a particular family, but it also exposes the larger, ongoing struggle of postcommunist Eastern Europe to come to terms with suffering when catharsis is denied. Reporting from a fresh, multicultural perspective, Zmeškal makes a welcome contribution to European literature in the twenty-first century.
Tomáš Zmeškal was born in Prague and educated at King’s College, University of London. He returned to his native country after the collapse of communism in the 1990s and is now a writer and teacher. He is the author of two novels, a work of literary nonfiction, radio plays, and short stories. He lives in Prague, Czech Republic. Alex Zucker is an award-winning translator of Czech. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
“A love story told through multiple stories in multiple genres . . . a beautiful novel. . . . Zucker’s translation feels masterful in its mellifluous English.”—Rick Henry, Rain Taxi
“A rich, deep family saga . . . artfully structured. . . . A very fine novel . . . with a nice balance of the wildly imagined and the all-too-real.”—M. A. Orthofer, Complete Review
“[A] magically demanding rhizome of a novel.”—Malynne Sternstein, Slavic Review
“Zmeskal and Zucker move us from Prague and the Czech countryside to the Arizona desert to Mesopotamia, from prison cells to cloning labs. This is a love story about a Prague family, a fantasy featuring a pastry chef with visions of grandeur, break-ins by an apologetic thief, zoo animals on the loose. Love, loss, tragedy, humor, and fantasy weave through the family chronicle, and the political events of several decades and generations collide and intersect. The novel is by turns thrilling, poignant, absurd, personal, tragic, and grand.”—Ellen Elias-Bursac
“This debut novel provides a luminous, often bitterly funny contemporary reintroduction to the subversive sensibility of classic Czech fiction, theater and movies. Trapped by the enveloping ironies of their national history, Zmeskal’s characters still ward off the forces of dehumanization with idiosyncratic dignity.”—Lyle Zimskind
“In Tomáš Zmeškal, we have something new and intriguing: our first Afro-Czech novelist, a writer uniquely positioned to impart a heightened experience of two defining qualities in Czech literature, its lyricality and its peculiarly alienated perspective. Alex Zucker’s careful attention to both the nuances of Zmeskal’s language and the subtle quirks in the mentality of his characters brings to bear his rich experience translating some of the leading post-Velvet novelists and his decades-long commitment to presenting the best of Czech culture to the global audience it deserves.”—Matthew Healey
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