This month we read the book Three Faces of an Angel written by Czech writer Jiří Pehe. Pehe was born in 1955, in Bohemia, where his father was stationed as a soldier in the Czechoslovak Army. He spent his teenage years visiting an Uncle in Prague, reading a collection of writing from before the 1968 Prague Spring. As a refugee in the 1980s he travelled to America, subsequently completed a Master’s Degree in International Affairs and after returning to the Czech Republic, he became President Havel’s chief political advisor.
Although apparently fiction, this novel presents a political stance, just as in Pehe’s other published writings. The first section provides a never-sent letter from a young man to his mother who abandoned him. She is Czech and his absent father is German. With the backdrop of the First World War, he becomes an accomplished violinist who suffers as a soldier, fathers a child, and returns to marry a Jewish woman with whom he has two children. When she dies again giving birth, he commits suicide.
The second section is narrated by his daughter who is in an asylum. She recalls her childhood during World War II with the fear of the Gestapo. This has impacted on her sanity and she writes a journal telling of the loss of her lover and fearing the prospects for her young son. Her suicide completes the section.
The third section (the weakest) is the 2001 story of this son, who leaves America and its narcissism and triviality to return to Prague. Family members, previously unknown, appear and he needs to make decision about his future. All the narrators of each generation have had visitations from Ariel, an angel of doom, who guides them in decision making. The time and place in the last page of the book can leave no doubt the final decision made by this young man – once again a victim of war.
Pehe’s laboured didactic tone, particularly in the final section, was a disadvantage. Themes of postmodernism and existentialism were very evident in the impelling stories of the first two sections, and made this book definitely worth a reading it.
Ratings: Alexa 3.5, Claudia 3.5, Denise 2.5, Gail 3, Janet 2.5, Judith 2.5, Margie 3, Nicola 2.5 and Viv 3.5.
Next month we get together on the 11/12/17 at 6:30pm at Preece House, 50 Nerang St Bischof Pioneer Park, Nerang (next to 54 Nerang St. shops) to discuss Clinch by Swedish writer Martin Holmén. This concludes our year of European novels in translation. Hope to see you there and Happy Reading!
We are a group that gets together once a month to discuss good books. Each of us gets to choose a book on a rotational basis, preferably one outside our personal comfort zone – we try to keep the trash to ourselves. After the discussion, we comment on other books we read that month. Most of the time we remain friends after the meeting.
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