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A fake, or an extraordinary find? That is the question when a Miskatonic University archeological expedition discovers an ancient Latin manuscript in Honduras. But how these tattered scrolls, attributed to a military inventor in Augustan Rome, wound up in the New World 1400 years before Columbus set foot on those shores, is just the first in a Chinese box of enigmas that Josef Skvorecky cracks wide open in his novel, An Inexplicable Story, or The Narrative of Questus Firmus Siculus. Skvorecky reignites his youthful passion for American detective fiction and produces a work that tests its readers' literary sleuthing skills as it tackles the fundamental problem of how (and whether) authenticity can be determined.
The found manuscript, whose published translation makes up the first part of the novel, purports to provide the answer to one of literary history's greatest unsolved mysteries: Why was Ovid banished from Rome by Augustus Caesar, and what was his subsequent fate? But the scrolls' deteriorated condition means that their editor, P.O. Enfield, can offer only educated guesses. His commentaries on the various editions, as well as the letters and supporting documents also included, succeed only in raising the bar of inscrutability. And this is precisely where the real fun lies--in the interplay of texts and in the blatantly plagiaristic weaving of the narrative with some "real" works of fiction: Poe'sThe Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and Jules Verne'sLe Sphinx des glaces.
In An Inexplicable Story, Czech émigré Skvorecky once again takes up the themes of banishment and of life "somewhere over the rainbow" that are familiar from his classic novels The Cowards andThe Engineer of Human Souls. But here, with sly audacity, he blurs literary fact and fiction to create a hilariously confounding, grandly literary lark. --Diana Kuprel
JOSEF SKVORECKY is an award-winning author whose novels include An Inexplicable Story, The Bass Saxophone, The Mournful Demeanor of Lieutenant Boruvka, and The Swell Season. He has also written many short stories and film scripts, and is the winner of the 1980 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He lives in Toronto with his wife.