A writer whose works are rejected by the state publishing houses takes a job on a street-sweeping gang in Prague. His co-workers provide him with a new and unsettling view of this city and his society. This is an evocation of the fate of the creative artist under a repressive regime.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
One of those classic semiautobiographical European novels in which ideas are as important as plot, by Czech writer Klima (My First Loves, 1988). A dissident writer, living in Prague and unable to get published, finds a job sweeping the streets, but this daily pursuit of the city's trash becomes as much a journey into the writer's past as a meditation on literature in general, Kafka in particular, and the conflict between freedom and guilt. A childhood survivor of the Prague Ghetto, and haunted by the deaths he witnessed, the writer found his salvation in literature: "I realized the amazing power of. . .the human imagination generally: to make tire dead live and stop the living from dying. I was seized by wonder at this miracle. . . and longed to achieve something similar." He relates his long extramarital affair with a sculptor; introduces his fellow-sweepers, all victims of the system; and recalls his dying father, an engineer who loved numbers and life. Oppressed by guilt and painful memories of the affair he ended because he was unable to live a lie, he sees the world on the edge of the Apocalypse, and filled with garbage and the lies people tell. When his father dies, he gives up his sweeping job - a job undertaken, he decides, because "Man longs for a cleansing but instead he starts cleaning up his surroundings. But until man cleanses himself he's wasting his time cleaning up the world around him." Remembering his father's laughter, and his advice never to cry, he feels a measure of peace. Rich with allusion and insights, the deceptively simple story sometimes gets lost in his musings, but Klima's portrait of a man and an artist trying to live honorably in his personal and professional life is a noteworthy achievement. (Kirkus Reviews)