The Arsonist Hardcover – Dec 1996
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About the Author
Egon Hostovsky was born as the youngest of eight children to a Jewish family in the northeastern Bohemian town of Hronov in 1908 where his father was the co-owner of a small textile factory. After finishing Gymnasium in Nchod in 1927, he studied at Charles University in Prague, and then in Vienna in 1929. Throughout the 1930s, he served as editor in the Prague publishing house Melantrich. During this period he published a number of novels. These were translated at the time into other European languages, notably Danish, French, Flemish, and German, and marked Hostovsky as one of the leading figures of that generation of Czech writers. In February, 1939 he left to Brussels on a lecture tour. As a result of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, he continued on to Paris and then to Lisbon before arriving in New York in February, 1940 where he stayed during the war. His father, sisters, and their families, perished in concentration camps. He returned for a brief period to Czechoslovakia in 1946, working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then in the embassy in Norway as a legal secretary, later as Charges d'Affaires. He resigned his post in 1949 and returned to the United States in February, 1950, where he taught Czech at a language school, wrote for American newspapers, and for five years was editor of the radio station Free Europe. He died in Montclair, New Jersey in 1973. The novels written in emigration were immediately translated into English (often preceding publication in Czech), thus establishing Hostovsky as a noted world author.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The main character is a 15-year-old who spends sleepless nights mulling over his choice of a career, brooding over his appearance which for the first time bothers him as he meets his older sister's girlfriend, or just being perplexed over why his mother doesn't entertain the same feelings for his father as he does for the wickedly beautiful young guest in his house.
The protagonist could just as easily be the town itself, where a mysterious arsonist, or even arsonists, strikes and forces people to confront their own sense of anxious terror.
It is confronting this terror that brings the town's -- and our young anti-hero's -- story to as much of a satisfactory but incomplete and short-lived story as you can expect in real life.
There are no happy endings all round here--a poor barber whose wife dies then loses everything else, first his house and livelihood, then his mind and his health. Yet Hostovsky seems to spare him no pity, or maybe he's just making the point--if you think that's sad, see what's coming.
The book came as a relief after I read a rash of novels by Booker Prize winners that were all, in comparison, cases of style with no substance. I would recommend it to any one looking for something a bit different and a refreshing change from all those polished but essentially run-of-the-mill bestsellers or crusty classics. It certainly renewed my ambition to travel to the Czech and Slovak republics one day.