The Visible World by Mark Slouka

For my mother and father, Olga and Zdenek Slouka, who lived the years and half the story, and for the seven who died on June 18, 1942, in the church of Saints Cyril and Metodej. -- Mark Slouka

My mother knew a man during the war. Their's was a love story, and like any good love story, it left blood on the floor and wreckage in its wake. -- Mark Slouka

Memories of a clandestine love affair during the dark days of the Nazi occupation of Prague.

Think of Nazi occupation and we think of France. Think of occupied Czechoslovakia and we think of the Russian tanks rolling into Prague in the late summer of 1968.

The Visible World by Mark Slouka is the tale of a different occupation, a different summer. It is also the tale of a tragic love affair that took place that summer.

The Visible World is a trilogy or maybe a novel in three parts. It is difficult though to believe that it is a novel, a work of fiction, as so moving is the narrative.

The foreground is New York, Czech immigrants living in the New World, but unable to adapt, to move on, their lives forever rooted in the past, in the Old World, occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. The one fact to emerge, the assassination in May 1942 of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich in Prague by Czech Partisans dropped in by the RAF and the reprisals that followed.

Czechoslovakia was a German protectorate, one large German prison camp, the prisoners slave labourers, the factories turning out German armaments, the countryside feeding the German troops.

Reinhard Heydrich was a favourite of Adolf Hitler, architect of the Final Solution. When Hitler learned of the news of the assassination, he ordered the execution of 10,000 Czechs, to be chosen at random. He only backed down when he was advised it would demoralise the Czech workforce upon which the Germans were dependent. Hundreds were executed and tortured every day, to try and extract confessions, to flush out the culprits and those who helped them and tried to protect them.

We learn of the story little by little, and often one part does not match or contradicts another, fragments of memory like a broken jigsaw painfully put together.

A school teacher who the Germans caught one day, tortured and executed. It must have been a mistake, a coincidence, maybe a former pupil with a grudge had given his name. Only later, in 1945, does the son learn, when a man comes knocking at the door, that his father was a key member of the Czech Resistance.

In the first part, life in New York. The middle, an interlude in Prague to try and unearth the truth. The third part, a novel, an attempt to imagine what happened.

A powerful and beautifully written novel, that at the end leaves the reader traumatized and numb.

Shortlisted for British Book Awards 2008.

A copy of The Visible World has been registered as a BookCrossing book. [see BCID 5898073]

BookCrossing books are released into the wild and their progress checked on the Internet via a unique BookCrossing ID (BCID).

For my lovely Czech friend Iva, who I only wish had been with me when I read The Visible World to explain to me the background and the Czech words and phrases that I did not understand.
Books Worth Reading
(c) Keith Parkins 2008 -- March 2008 rev 0