Wednesday, January 28, 2015


This book is for readers who like a hefty dose of philosophy with their fiction.  The author addresses the reader directly on such issues as God’s digestive system and the fact that dogs were not ousted from the Garden of Eden, as humans were.  He also spends a few pages talking about how events happen only once, so that if we set goals or plan for the future, we are striving toward something we have never experienced.  Achieving the goal may not actually bring us the satisfaction or happiness that we anticipated.  (Many people would say that retirement is one such goal.)  In any case, the story takes place mostly in Czechoslovakia during the late 1960s when Russia invaded the country and stamped their brand of communism on it.  Tomas and his wife Tereza actually move to Zurich before getting out of Czechoslovakia becomes impossible.  However, Tereza decides to return to Prague, and Tomas follows her, despite the fact that he has several mistresses.  One of those is Sabina, who lives in Geneva.  She is also the mistress of Franz, but she loses interest in Franz as soon as he leaves his wife and family for her.  Tomas, a surgeon, writes a newspaper article, deemed by the authorities as subversive, and goes through a series of demotions, until he eventually becomes a window washer.  This line of work, and the widespread knowledge of his tumble in status, actually fuels his extramarital sex life.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it when it was current.  It may be a modern classic, but it’s certainly an offbeat one.  The catch phrase of the novel, “It must be,” becomes Tomas’s excuse for his philandering and his career plunge, as well as the political situation.  This acceptance of fate seems human, but I expected something a little more out of the ordinary.  One thing I did like about the book is that we learn the fate of Tereza and Tomas well before the end and then get to see how it plays out.  I don’t think I would normally want to know in advance what’s going to happen (“it must be”), but then this isn’t a normal book, and the ending is much more palatable when reached in this way.

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