From Publishers Weekly
Slouka's urgent second novel (following God's Fool
) comes in three parts. The first relates the nameless narrator's growing up in postwar New York and Pennsylvania as the child of college journalism instructor Antonín and Ivana Sedlák, Czech émigrés whose marriage is slowly disintegrating. The reason, of which the young narrator is aware from an early age, is that Ivana loves another man, killed in Czechoslovakia during WWII. The despondent Ivana watches soap operas and chain-smokes until, at age 64 in 1984, she walks in front of the Allentown bus. The slimmer middle section chronicles the narrator quitting his job two years later, moving to Prague and poking into his parents' wartime past there. The final, longest section crackles with the novel's main tale. Having pieced together enough of his parents' history, the narrator "imagines" the rest. Crucially, it involves the actual assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's ruthless local military governor, on May 27, 1942. As part of a daring plan, Czech patriot assassins are parachuted in by the RAF; the injured Heydrich later dies of blood poisoning. The Nazi bloodbath that follows includes the infamous liquidation of the village of Lidice. The suspense is well paced, and the action scenes are vividly recounted. Slouka's novel has a poignant verve. (Apr.)
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An unnamed American man from Queens, the son of Czech parents who emigrated after World War II, struggles to understand his mother's tragic past in this almost unbearably poignant work. In its first part, a series of reminiscences from his early years, he attempts to piece together her story and that of Eastern Europe's wartime generation--a tale involving secret executions, SS leader Reinhard Heydrich's assassination, and a family friend's hidden history as a Nazi interpreter. As he travels through Czechoslovakia as an adult, he meets villagers who reveal startlingly insightful truths about how people conceal their pasts in order to survive. Ultimately finding no concrete answers, he decides to re-create his mother's story in fiction, a section that imagines her love affair with a member of the Resistance during 1942. Undeniably romantic, this novel-within-a-novel responds to the desperate longing for truth so powerfully explored earlier, making plain our overriding need to make sense of the incomprehensible. This is a penetrating, beautifully composed novel from a writer with a tangible sense of place and period. Sarah JohnsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved