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An Inexplicable Story [Hardcover]

Josef Skvorecky
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Sept. 11 2002

In an urn, sealed in the wall of an ancient Central American tomb, the burial chamber of the Mayan king K`inich Yax K`uk`Mo, a mysterious manuscript has been found. The archaeologists who find it are perplexed. The scroll is in Latin, and it is older than the 1,600-year-old tomb itself. It is the `Narrative of Questus,` a Roman who lived in the 1st century AD, during the reign of Augustus. According to Patrick O. Enfield, the scholar entrusted with the task of translating and commenting on this spectacular find, there can be no doubt of its authenticity. The manuscript is subjected to `every available test and to detailed linguistic scrutiny.` It is not a hoax. Although the scroll is damaged, it can be read, and it draws a detailed picture of the childhood and youth of the author. Questus is 19, an aspiring inventor who would like to create marvelous new machines for the Imperial army. His father is a remote figure, a military commander who is usually away on campaign. His mother, however, is anything but remote. Still young and delightfully pretty, she is a favourite of the Emperor and also of the poet Ovid (as a child Questuscalled him `Uncle Ovid`). Ovid`s The Art of Love has just been published, and the young diarist and his friends scrutinize it for sexual secrets, hidden meanings and scandal. Slowly, Questus realizes that one of those secrets involves his own mother....


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From Amazon

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

About the Author


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.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Inexplicable fun! July 26 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
An excellent novel with fascinating twists and more questions than answers, this book focuses on the memoirs of a first-century Roman citizen, Questus Firmus Siculus.
When his autobiography is dicovered among Mayan ruins in the Honduras, Questus, a formerly unknown Roman, baffles the scientific community. The scrolls are undeniably real, but how could they have come so many thousands of miles over the Atlantic, when the Romans were thought to have ventured no farther west than Britain?
The contents of the scrolls is even more puzzling. They reveal a new theory about the reason for Tiberius's banishment of Ovid, and explore a new possibility for the identity of Corinna, Ovid's lover in his collection of erotic poetry, Amores.
With nods to Verne and Poe, Skvorecky flies through this imaginative romp with style and aplomb. Fabulous, entertaining, and literary all at once!
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative novel that builds to a thrilling finish! March 26 2005
By Ethan Orwin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the most imaginative recent novels I have read. It deals with a mysterious manuscript written by one Questus Firmus Siculus, a hitherto unknown citizen of the early Roman Empire (even his praenomen "Questus" is unknown). The manuscript is discovered in the ruins of a Mayan temple complex, an obvious anomaly in itself. Through the fragmented manuscript, and various subsequent letters and stories from an eclectic, international group of sources over the ages, a fascinating adventure is revealed, as are many more mysteries and unanswerable questions. This novel gets better and better as it goes on and the pieces start falling into place.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inexplicable fun! July 26 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An excellent novel with fascinating twists and more questions than answers, this book focuses on the memoirs of a first-century Roman citizen, Questus Firmus Siculus.
When his autobiography is dicovered among Mayan ruins in the Honduras, Questus, a formerly unknown Roman, baffles the scientific community. The scrolls are undeniably real, but how could they have come so many thousands of miles over the Atlantic, when the Romans were thought to have ventured no farther west than Britain?
The contents of the scrolls is even more puzzling. They reveal a new theory about the reason for Tiberius's banishment of Ovid, and explore a new possibility for the identity of Corinna, Ovid's lover in his collection of erotic poetry, Amores.
With nods to Verne and Poe, Skvorecky flies through this imaginative romp with style and aplomb. Fabulous, entertaining, and literary all at once!
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