“The Association of Small Bombs” ticks slowly but makes a loud noise as its message becomes clear. Karan Mahajan explains something about India that is only marginally understood by most Americans. It is no surprise that terrorism comes from racial, religious, and ethnic difference, magnified by inequality. What is a surprise is India’s terrorist acts are local events, poorly prosecuted and soon forgotten by those not directly involved.
Mahajan’s story is about perpetrators of terrorism, who they are, where they come from, why, and how they become terrorists. The President of India is Hindu. An estimated 80 percent of India is Hindu with 13% Islamic, 2.3% Christian and other religions at less than 2% each.
(Mahatma) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948, Lawyer, Leader of India’s independence from British Rule.)
As most know, during the time of Mahatma Gandhi, there was a concerted effort to secularize India and keep two predominate religions in India, Hindu, and Islam. Gandhi fails and Pakistan becomes a separate Islamic state in 1947.
Modi, the current President of India, is said to believe–India’s Muslims must prove their Indianness to be citizens of the country.
Modi effectively dismantles Gandhi’s effort to secularize India. Like the stain of slavery in America, Modi pollutes India’s secularization at the expense of a restive Muslim population.
Mahajan’s story begins with a terrorist bomb explosion. The bomb is set by a Muslim terrorist that kills two Muslim boys and wounds a third.
The irony is that Muslims are killing Muslims to undermine a government that already discriminates against Muslims. “The Association of Small Bombs” is meant to destabilize the government regardless of who is being killed.
Mahajan explains how injustice is compounded by an inept prosecution system, biased against Muslims who are often victims of the bombings. India’ residents, whether Muslim or Hindu, are victimized in two ways. One, actual perpetrators are rarely caught, and two, victims are rarely compensated for their loss.
Mahajan illustrates how inequality is an equal opportunity victimizer in India. The wider point of Mahajan’s story is that denial of equal opportunity for all races, religions, and ethnicities in any nation-state is a crime against humanity.
Magda Szabo (Hungarian novelist, 1917-2007, died at age 90)
“The Door” is a story of the human psyche, and religious belief. Every human has a locked door in their consciousness, behind which life’s meaning is hidden.
Often, neither individuals nor acquaintances have a key to that door. Magda Szabo creates characters searching for that key. To some listener/readers, her primary character has the key. Emerence Szeredas is Szabo’s primary character who, some may argue, has keys to other’s doors, as well as her own.
Emerence is a mysterious community caretaker. As Szabo tells her story, listeners find Emerence has lived an eventful life.
She realizes much of life is out of her control but believes that which is under one’s control should be controlled absolutely. Emerence lives in an apartment. Her front door is locked to outsiders–excerpt in a rare circumstance when a fugitive needs to be hidden from the world because of societal transgression. Emerence becomes a place of temporary refuge for societal transgressors in a hidden room in her house.
Emerence cracks the door of her life for a writer who is married and needs help with her household. The writer asks Emerence to become her housekeeper.
The slight opening to the writer of Emerence’s psyche ends in tragedy. Through many years of work and acquaintance with the writer, Emerence reveals personal information about her life. Emerence resists opening her locked door but counsels the writer on how she should live her life. Emerence becomes close to the writer and plans to leave the contents of the house to her when she dies.
Emerence has a stroke. She refuses help from anyone and refuses any food or medical assistance while recovering behind her closed door.
She refuses to allow anyone, including the writer, to come into her apartment. She quits eating and is near death. The apartment begins to stink of pet excrement and rotting food. The writer chooses to organize the community to break down Emerence’s door and force her into a hospital for care. Emerence threatens to kill anyone who tries to knock down her door. In great distress, Emerence wields an axe, inadvertently smashes the door to her apartment, and is unable to stop the community from taking her to the hospital.
Now that Emerence’s door is broken, both metaphorically and physically, she blames the writer for invading her privacy and denying her the right to die as she chooses.
The writer interferes with Emerence’s fundamental right to control that which she can control. Emerence heatedly explains to the writer that her wish to die behind her door is her choice.
Emerence is recovering in the hospital. She refuses to talk to the writer. The writer cannot grasp Emerence’s reasoning. The writer feels she saved Emerence’s life. What the writer did not understand is Emerence’s need to be in control of what she can control to give meaning to her life.
Despite Emerence’s physical deterioration, neglect of pets in her house, and the unhealthful condition of her surroundings, in her apartment she had control of her life. Survival in the hospital, the stinking condition of the house, and her physical disability became an embarrassment to Emerence. To Emerence, if she had died in the house, the embarrassment would mean nothing because she would be dead. With survival, Emerence’s locked door would be opened for all to see, a circumstance beyond her control.
Emerence is told by the hospital that she will not be released to return to her apartment. She is to be sent to a convalescent facility. She refuses with anger and physical reaction that ends her life on terms she chooses.
“The Door” appears in Hungary in 1987 and has been translated into French and English. It raises many questions about life, faith, and individual rights. In this age of “right to die”, Szabo’s story has particular relevance.
Albert Camus (1913-1960, Author, philosopher, founder of Absurdist philosophy.)
Albert Camus’s short story is similar to Irvin Yalom’s book, “When Nietzsche Wept”. In “A Happy Death” Camus’ reveals the essence of an Absurdist’s view of life while Yalom reveals a Nihilist’s view of life. Yalom’s story is longer, more informative, and artistic but both stories clarify similarity and difference between an Absurdist’ and Nihilist’ view of life.
Camus tells a story of a man who chooses to commit suicide. Yalom tells a story of Nietzsche who bares life and has no intention of committing suicide. Camus’s character commits suicide because he achieved a purpose in life but could not find a comparable purpose in life to replace the one achieved.
In one sense, Yalom’s characterization of Nietzsche suggests Camus’s suicidal character is a “Superman” because he rejects all religious and moral principles. However, by choosing suicide, he is no longer a “Superman” to Nietzsche.
To Camus, he was never a “Superman”. He is an Absurdist who has simply lost his chosen purpose in life because of the randomness of worldly existence. Camus’s character chooses suicide because his chosen purpose in life is taken away from him. His legs are amputated because of a random event of life.
To Nietzsche, life is pointless because there is no meaning to life. To Camus, meaning in life is a human choice, even though, like Nietzsche, he believes there is no God, or moral absolutes.
The answer to life for Camus is not that humans are Superman or Superwoman because there is no God, but that any human man or woman can choose, or not choose, to have purpose in life.
Camus views the world as an absurd place where anything can happen but that does not mean one cannot choose a purpose in life.
Camus notes this character who chooses suicide is different in one other significant way. His chosen purpose in life is to acquire wealth to buy time. He gained wealth. The noted difference reminds one of Montaigne’s essays. Montaigne had the luxury of wealth which gave him time for contemplation.
Camus’s story about Absurdism only begins with the suicide. The person who plans his suicide has a gun to end his life but by someone he chooses. The choice made by the amputee is Camus’s main character, a person wandering through life with no purpose.
The amputee explains he lived a life that earned him two million dollars. It was earned with purpose, by any means necessary. His purpose in life is to become wealthy. He achieves that purpose, but now with no legs, he feels he can no longer pursue that purpose. The main character is given two million dollars to shoot the amputee and make it look like a suicide with a note written by the amputee.
The main character realizes he must choose a purpose in life and ignore the truth of life’s randomness. His purpose in life is not entirely clear, but Camus’s point is that to live life in an Absurdist world, one must choose a purpose.
To Camus, in choosing a purpose, one may find peace, a sense of achievement, and possibly happiness. To Nietzsche, life is something to bare and when it’s over, it’s over. To Nietzsche, there is no purpose in life.
It seems Camus believes it is better to be an Absurdist than a Nihilist. That puts a fine point on the question of suicide. A Nihilist like Nietzsche, presumably, would call one who commits suicide a coward. An Absurdist like Camus would suggest suicide is an option.
Optimistically, Camus shows his main character chooses a way of life that might be considered Epicurean, if not hedonist. Money gave him time to choose a purpose in life. His main character nears death and appears at peace with himself.
Irvin D. Yalom (Author, Doctor of Medicine, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.)
“When Nietzsche Wept” was published in 1992. The author Irvin Yalom is now 91 which implies his book was written in his late 50s.
To those who have struggled with understanding Fredrich Nietzsche, Yalom offers brilliant insight to Nietzschean philosophy in a novel set in the formative years of Freudian psychology.
As a psychiatrist by training, Yalom offers insight to the psychology of the male psyche while telling the story of a friendship between Nietzsche and a physician named Josef Breuer.
Interest in philosophy is not essential for appreciating Yalom’s creative mind in “When Nietzsche Wept”. Yalom intersperses historical fact in an imaginative story. Dr. Joseph Breuer is friends with a younger Austrian neurologist named Sigmund Freud. Freud is just beginning to develop his theory of psychological therapy through dialog. Freud’s therapeutic idea is to reveal causes for psychiatric abnormality by talking through the physical and emotional circumstances that lead to psychological imbalance.
Freud’s therapeutic idea is to reveal causes for psychiatric abnormality by talking through the physical and emotional circumstances that lead to psychological imbalance. To Breuer, Freud carries his concept too far by implying a homunculus inside the brain.
What makes Yalom’s story compelling is the opinion given by the author of “talking theory’s” value in psychotherapy. At the same time, Yalom exposes male chauvinism and its harmful societal consequence.
Joseph Breuer (1842-1925, a noted physician in neurophysiology, used the -talking cure- with “Anna O” that laid the foundation of psychoanalysis developed by his protege, Sigmund Freud.)
Josef Breuer is 40 years old. He is married to a beautiful woman. They have children together while Breuer becomes a well-established and renown physician. However, Yalum suggests Breuer is experiencing a mid-life crisis. In his practice, Breuer becomes emotionally attached to a young, beautiful patient who comes to him for treatment of physical discomfort and pain from an unknown cause. When an attack occurs, the patient exhibits pain that is only relieved by physical contact from her attending physician. That physical contact becomes inordinately intimate.
Breuer finds the contact sexually stimulating while clearly understanding it is professionally unacceptable. With his association with Freud, Breuer experiments with talking therapy to ameliorate the patient’s symptoms. He finds the therapy helps but it distorts his objective understanding of patient-doctor relationship.
Breuer begins to believe the patient is becoming emotionally attached to him when she is simply acting out psychologically. In defense against his falsely based infatuation, he assigns the patient to another physician.
In an acting-out psychological way, similar to Breuer’s mistaken perception with his former patient, he is approached by a beautiful 21-year-old woman, a stranger. She asks him to take on a new patient named Fredrich Nietzsche. She explains Nietzsche may commit suicide based on her acquaintance and subsequent rejection of his proposal of marriage. In a sense, Breuer is seduced by his imagination of the beautiful young woman’s approach to him. In fact, the young woman is only acting in accordance with her own agenda.
A listener begins to realize this is a Nietzschean view of the world of human relationship. Every human being has their own agenda. People act in their own self-interest, not in other’s interests. Human self-absorption distorts truth. God is not only dead, but He also never lived. All there is, is one’s will. To Nietzsche, one either becomes a superman or nothing.
Breuer takes Nietzsche as a patient but only on terms acceptable to Nietzsche. Breuer concocts an idea of offering Nietzsche the opportunity to treat Breuer for his mid-life crises. In return, Breuer offers his ministration as a physician. The sessions are based on the undisclosed self-interests of both, rather than the truth of each’s acceptance. What happens is Breuer’s mid-life crises is cured and Nietzsche’s weeping self-realization becomes the story.
This is an over-simplification of a well-crafted novel that has much to say about male egoism, psychotherapy, and inequality of the sexes; not to mention the terrifying implication of Nietzschean philosophy. There is much to unpack in Yalom’s spectacular story.
Ivan Clark Doig (Author, novelist 1939-2015, died at age 75.)
Ivan Doig died in 2015. His last novel, published in 2015, is “Last Bus to Wisdom”. Those of a certain age will remember what it was like to ride a Greyhound bus in the 1950s.
The boy’s name is Donal, aka Donny or Red Chief. His mother and father have died in an auto accident. As one might surmise from Donal’s nick name and his grandmother’s job, he is an imaginative boy with a lot of time on his own while his Gram works. Donal learns something about cowboys, Indians, rodeos, and ranching.
Donal lives with his grandmother who works as a cook on a Montana ranch.
The trip to Wisconsin is memorable for a confrontation with a suitcase thief, a missed bus, a kiss from a waitress, conversation with American Army recruits heading for Korea, a fight with fellow eleven-year-old’s, and Donal’s first meeting with his grandmother’s sister.
Donal’s stay in Wisconsin is shortened by a falling out with his grandmother’s sister who decides to send him back to Montana with the prospect of being sent to an orphanage.
Donal is rescued by Dutch, the assumed husband of his grandmother’s sister. Dutch is not the husband but a survivor of a shipwrecked cargo vessel that took the life of the actual husband of the sister.
The story of Donal’s travels is a great entertainment but acquiring wisdom is another matter. “Last Bus to Wisdom” is a well-told tale to entertain rather than enlighten. Still, this is a great piece of writing illustrating the talent of a very good novelist.
Joel C. Rosenberg (Author of novels, political strategist.)
Two requirements of good fiction are suspension of disbelief and identification with its created characters. For this critic, “The Persian Gamble” does not make the cut. Joel Rosenberg is a popular novelist and his experience as a Middle East strategist for Israel suggests he knows something about counterintelligence. However, “The Persian Gamble” seems implausible and his main character is an odd evangelical that believes the gospel while condoning mayhem.
One who is skeptical of organized religion would suggest the bible is about the beginnings of religion, not an inviolable guide to life and humanity’s end. It is no surprise that the bible would suggest the end would come in the Middle East when its religions began in the Middle East.
Rosenberg’s story is in the idea of a political agreement between Iran, North Korea, and Russia to begin a nuclear war.
The Iranian, North Korean, and Russian leaders collude to obscure the origin of a first nuclear strike. At the very least, the implausibility of cooperation between Iran, North Korea and Russia makes the story unbelievable.
To an Iranian mullah, a nuclear strike would be deserved punishment for un-believers. To North Korea, it would demonstrate their power and influence in the world. To Russia it would offer an opportunity for hegemonic control of the world. Iran’s leader agrees to the conspiracy because he is near death and believes all un-believers should join him in death and depart from him to hell. North Korea agrees because their leader wants to punch above its weight. Russia agrees because they want to eliminate hegemonic rivals.
Rosenberg’s hero is Marcus Ryker. Ryker, as most novelist heroes, is unkillable.
He exhibits the ability to fly a jet when his only experience as a pilot is with a propeller-driven plane. The jet he confiscates is shot down while he puts a parachute on himself, grabs a wounded and unconscious CIA agent, and miraculously saves himself and the agent.
To thwart Russia’s plan, a close Russian relation of the President assassinates Russia’s President and Vice President. Ryker, without realizing the President and Vice President were going to be shot, helps the assassin escape. The problem is Russia’s plan is only modified, not stopped. A deal is struck to sell Russian nuclear war heads to Iran at a higher price and on an accelerated time frame. It is unclear what Russian leader is behind the revised plan because the originator of the plan, the assassinated Russian President, is dead.
The nuclear war heads are intercepted at sea by American forces and the transport vessel is sunk before delivery to Iran. Ryker is enlisted by the President of the United States to be a part of the interception. Ryker accepts the President’s enlistment in return for immunity for being an unsanctioned participant in the assassination of Russia’s leaders.
The lack of nation-state objectivity, and the Q-Anon flavor of Rosenberg’s imagination is off-putting. There is so much to know from books and so little time. This time was not well spent.
Leonora Carrington (Author, artist born in England, lived in Mexico, 1917-2011, died at the age of 94.)
“The Hearing Trumpet” is said to have been written in the 1950s or early 60s. The author, Leonora Carrington, is believed to be in her late 50s when the book is written. Her age is relevant because the book is about old age and how those who make it to old age are treated in the modern world.
Though this is a highly regarded novel, to this reviewer the beginning is remarkable, the end is meh (uninspiring). The heroine of the story is Marian Leatherby. She is 94, a ripe old age, when one’s family members waiver between love and burden when thinking about their aged parents.
The character of Marian Leatherby is developed as a remarkable woman that is smart, and humorous but is troubled by loss of hearing. A neighbor who one presumes is similarly elderly buys a gift for Marian. The gift is “The Hearing Trumpet”.
Now that Marian has “The Hearing Trumpet” she can hear much better and understands her perilous living arrangement. She prepares for her children’s plan to move her into an assisted living facility for the aged.
Her son seems reluctant, but the daughter-in-law is insistent because of Marian’s bizarre behavior when they have guests. Marian rarely communicates with her children and often interrupts her family’s social lives because of her hearing loss.
Because of Marian’s hearing, she communicates and understands little about the son and daughter-in-law with whom she lives
The move happens within days of Marian’s realization of her son and daughter-in-law’s plan. Many who have reached a certain age, know of similar family decisions.
An aged parent responds in different ways. Some choose to die by making the move and refusing to adapt to a new way of living. Others choose to adapt. Marian is carted off to a monastery like facility.
The story is fascinating up to this point. It loses its appeal for this listener in a surrealistic story of Marian’s new living arrangement.
The head of the facility is an overweight manager with a semi-religious, zealot-like view of his role. Marian becomes an observer in her first weeks at the facility.
After some time, Marian accepts the behavior of her fellow wards and begins a surrealistic journey into a myth about the Knights of Malta (a religious military order under its own Papal, Roman Catholic charter).
This is semi-interesting to some because the Knights of Malta are an order of religious soldiers who are alleged by some to have murdered the famous artist, Caravaggio. That is not the surreal story of the author, but interestingly Lenora Carrington is an artist in real life.
One presumes Carrington’s story is full of symbolism, but it hides the fundamental importance of aging and how fearful one is to become old, ignored, and essentially discarded by society. Maybe fantasy is all that is left to the aged. Carrington lives into her 90s. One wonders how she adjusted to her infirmities.
Celeste Ng (American Author, Received Guggenheim Fellowhip in 2020.)
“Little Fires Everywhere” is a work of fiction addressing American wealth and poverty, freedom, abortion, discrimination, family relationship, academic education, and parenting. The author, Celeste Ng, artfully creates two families. The first family has wealth. The second lives on the edge of poverty. Both have well educated children who make big and little mistakes borne from their genetic inheritance and environment.
The two mothers are the primary decision makers. The mother of the wealthy family (Elena Richardson) is a reporter and college graduate. The mother of the poor family (Mia Warren) is a waitress, house cleaner, and formally educated artist who quit college. The wealthy mother has four children, two boys and two girls. The artist mother has one daughter. These families come together in the same exclusive neighborhood. The wealthy mother decides to offer half a duplex for rental to a mother and her daughter. The duplex is on the same property as the single-family home in which the Richardson’s live.
Elena Richardson contrasts with Mia Warren in most ways. Both went to college but one graduated while the other dropped out. Both are dominate influencers in their social interactions, but Elena is bullying while Mia is reasoning.
The Richardson boys are near the age of Mia Warren’s young daughter. All the children are in their teenage years.
The children in this story reflect the strengths and weaknesses of their parents. Both family’s children are headstrong, but the Richardson family’s children rely on their economic stability in making choices about life. The Warren family relies on their independent lifestyle and pragmatic view of the world to make choices about life.
Freedom is never absolute.
The Richardson’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, wealth, and social position. The Warren’s freedom is constrained by rule-of-law, poverty, and moral conscience. Abortion is a moral and social crime to Elena Richardson. Abortion is a woman’s right and moral choice to Mia Warren. Discrimination is academic to Elena and her social circle. It is personal to Mia. The Richardson family relationships are autocratic and secretive. The Warren family relationship is democratic and selectively open, limited by the maturity of Mia’s daughter. Education to the Richardson family is important to improve one’s social position. Education to the Warren family is to broaden one’s understanding of life.
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Adenrele Ojo, Hilliary Huber, Ramiz Monsef, Kate Reading, R.C. Bray
Joan Silber (Author, winner of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her book “Improvement”.)
“Improvement” is a compilation of characters in the formative years of their early adult lives.
The primary character is Reyna who lives in Harlem, New York. It is a story of her life and the lives of several who are in that age group. All characters in the novel are directly or indirectly connected to Reyna. None are “movers and shakers” of the world, but each represent what life is like for many young adults in the 21st century.
Reyna is a single mother with a young son named Oliver, and a boyfriend who is not the son’s father.
The boyfriend, Boyd, is serving time in prison for drug possession. Her attachment to Boyd comes from personal attraction but is cemented by Boyd’s attention to her son. The four-year-old idolizes Boyd.
Boyd also lives in Harlem. Reyna is white. Boyd is black. They are both living on the edge of poverty. Reyna is a secretary at a veterinary clinic.
Cigarette Smuggling in New York
After being released from prison, Boyd and friends decide to become smugglers by buying cigarettes in Virginia and selling them in New York.
The cigarette tax difference between States goes into the pockets of smugglers. If caught, they are fined and put in jail. This illegal activity, either directly or indirectly, sets events in motion that affect all the characters in Silber’s story.
Reyna is called upon to drive the smuggler’s transport truck when their regular driver is unavailable.
Reyna initially agrees but at the last moment decides she cannot make the trip because of her responsibility as a parent. She fears being arrested and having her son taken from her. Claude, one of the smugglers, says he will drive even though he has little experience driving, and no experience driving a truck. Claude also has no driver’s license.
On the trip to Virginia, the truck is t-boned by a commercial truck driver. Claude is killed, others are permanently injured.
The result of the accident is to reveal more information about everyone in the accident and people who are affected by the death of Claude. Claude had found a girlfriend in Virginia. She knows nothing of the accident and wonders why Claude has not contacted her. Claude’s sister is heartbroken by his death.
Claude’s girlfriend meets someone else to replace her affection for Claude. Reyna feels guilty for Claude’s death. Boyd breaks up with Reyna. Reyna’s son misses Boyd. The commercial driver becomes deeply in debt to repair his truck. The consequence of the accident reaches into the details of many lives. Claude’s sister leaves Harlem with money she unknowingly received from Reyna who feels guilty for Claude’s death. Claude’s sister starts her own business in Philadelphia.
One draws conclusions about life from Silber’s story. Seemingly unrelated events have consequences beyond one’s knowledge.
This is a story of people at the bottom of America’s economic ladder but what is true for the poor is true for all humanity. Everyone’s life is affected by what happens to others.
Empathy will not cure the ills of society, but knowledge of life’s interconnection offers hope for life’s “Improvement”. Silber shows how all human actions have consequence. One cannot predict the consequence of one’s actions, but Silber implies moral actions offer a chance for human “Improvement”.
The author, Jaroslav Kalfar offers a perception of communist Czechoslovakian history. Kalfar became a resident of Brooklyn, New York at the age of 15.
“Spaceman of Bohemia” is partly a “stream of consciousness” tale. Just as a reader/listener thinks the story is complete, a new story begins with a similar thematic destination. In an implausible space journey to a galactic dust cloud and a miraculous rescue, a Bohemian astronaut is saved by a Russian spaceship. The spaceman of Bohemia’s spaceship is compromised by dust from the cosmic cloud he is inspecting.
The Russian spaceship comes out of nowhere and is part of a top-secret program that explores the universe without knowledge of the rest of the world. The spaceman’s story begins with a young boy in communist Czechoslovakia just before the 1968 Prague Spring and Czechoslovakia’s democratization in 1989.
Jakub is the teller of this tale. In recounting his life, Jakub offers a history of what life is like for families that supported a repressive communist regime before the Prague spring movement.
Jakub’s father is employed by the secret police who torture dissidents at the direction of the communist party. One of those dissidents is tortured by Jakub’s father. After the communist party is rejected by the Czechs, this particular tortured dissident returns to seek revenge on Jakub’s family.
As a real-life example of dissident torture in Czechoslovakia, a Slovak priest dies from torture and radiation poisoning from forced labor during the communist era. He is beatified by the church after his death.
After Jakub’s father dies, he is raised by his grandparents. However, they are evicted from their home that Jakub’s grandfather had built. The eviction occurs because of political influence used by the dissident who had been tortured by Jakub’s deceased father.
Jakub becomes a Czech astrophysicist. As a scientist, he discovers a new life form in cosmic dust. Because of that discovery, he is called upon by his government to become an astronaut to make a trip to analyze a distant cosmic dust cloud. The true reason the Czech government calls for Jakub to become an astronaut is revealed at the end of the story. It is the influence of the tortured dissident.
Jakub’s ego, patriotism, and the added weight of the Czech republic’s storied history of science (referring to the likes of Bolzano, Purkinje, Wichterle, Heyrosky, etc. and oddly, Nikola Tesla who was a Serbian) entice Jakub to take the risky space journey.
The journey to the cosmic cloud takes several months. As the journey toward the cloud continues, Jakub meets, at least metaphorically, an alien that has the general form of an arachnid, but with 13 eyes.
The arachnid has lived for centuries and is able to communicate directly with Jakub. The arachnid calls Jakub “skinny human”. The arachnid can read Jakub’s mind which suggests it is a figment of Jacob’s imagination. That idea takes a listener into a state of suspended disbelief that becomes more surrealistic as the story progresses.
As the spaceship reaches the cosmic cloud, it becomes disabled by dust particles that penetrate the life support system of Jacob’s vessel.
As the “Spaceman…” nears death, a Russian spaceship rescues Jakub. The approaching spaceship is a part of a secret Russian science program that has explored the universe for many years.
Everyone in Czechoslovakia presumes Jakub is dead. The Russian’s plan is to keep their rescue of Jakub secret. As they near earth, Jacob impresses one of the cosmonauts (who incidentally has lost his mind) and helps him take over the Russian spaceship. It crashes into the ocean. Jacob escapes and returns to his home country.
Those are the general details of the story, but its appeal is in the author’s skillful use of words and his characterization of human relationship and fragility. As the author explores human relationships, he exploits beliefs in authoritarian, democratic, communist, and capitalist government’ deficiencies.
Jakub marries a free-spirted artist, a woman whom he loves. She also loves him but resents his self-centeredness.
Jakub chooses to take this dangerous journey without considering his wife’s opinion. He treats her as a non-person; not worthy of consideration when deciding something that deeply affects both their lives. She decides to leave Jacob just as he left her, without explanation. Jakub is only part way through his journey to the cosmic cloud when she leaves. She chooses not to explain anything to Jakub in their weekly contacts while he is in space. She just leaves.
Jakub’s wife works with a psychiatrist that helps her understand the decision she makes to leave her husband.
The meetings are transcribed, and Jakub is given a copy of the transcript when he returns to earth. He realizes the mistake he has made and hopes to reenter the relationship he has lost. When he sees his wife, he realizes there is no chance for reconciliation because of the past. He recognizes his failure as an equal partner to a woman of substance.
Personal relationship is the beginning and end of all that matters in life. Kalfar tells a story of human fragility. Life is not government. Life is not politics. Life is not economics.