Monday, March 27, 2017

Spaceman of Bohemia

Title:  Spaceman of Bohemia
Author:  Jaroslav Kalfar
Publication Information:  Little, Brown and Company. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0316273430 / 978-0316273435

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My name is Jakub Prochazka."

Favorite Quote:  "We know that the world operates on a whim, a system of coincidences. There are two basic coping mechanisms. One consists of dreading the chaos, fighting it and abusing oneself after lost, building a structured life ... in which every decision is a reaction against the fear of the worst ... This is the life that cannot be won, but it does offer the comfort of battle - the human heart is content when distracted by war. The second mechanism is an across-the-board acceptance of the absurd all around us ... This is the way to survive in this world, to walk up in the morning ... and exclaim, 'How unlikely! Yet here we are,' and have a laugh, and swim in the chaos, swim without fear, swim without expectation but always with an appreciation of every whim, the beauty of screwball twists and jerk that pump blood through our emaciated veins."

I started reading this book expecting a story like The Martian by Andy Weir. Both are about a lone astronaut surviving not only the elements but also the loneliness of their situation. What I discovered is that this is about where the similarity ends. The Martian is a book about survival; Spaceman of Bohemia is really anything but that.

I want to have a conversation with Jaroslav Kalfar and ask him what he was thinking when he wrote this book, and I mean that in the best way possible. This is a book that leaves me thinking. I am still puzzling over what the story meant. Is it a flight of fancy about a man traveling to space to investigate a dark cloud that hovers over earth? Is it a metaphorical journey about a man dealing with the psychological scars of his childhood and the impact of the father's sins being visited on the child? Is it a somewhat satirical, absurdist commentary through Czech history and current events? Is it perhaps all these things?

The literal story centers on Jakub Prochazka, a professor of astrophysics. About a year and a half before the book begins, a comet has cast a cloud over earth. Countries are in a race to be the first to explore the cloud and gather samples and data. The Czech's mount a one man mission that is to last several months. Months going. Months coming. A brief period in the cloud to gather data. Jake Prochazka is chosen to be that one man. Then comes the solitary journey and its ramifications for his body, his mind, and his relationships.

For Jakub, this mission is also a way to redeem his family's name for he is also the son of a member of the Communist secret police. Although his father dies when Jakub is a child, Jakub cannot escape the cloud of his legacy. How does the reader learn this? Why, through the alien Jakub meets on his journey, of course. A large, hairy spider like creatures appears in Jakub's spaceship. At first, it is unclear whether the creature is real or a figment of Jakub's mind. Regardless, the creature has the ability to delve into Jakub's psyche and his emotions. In this way, Jakub's solitary journey in space also becomes a reflection on his past and the country's history.

This book has a very small cast of characters. What makes this story work is the character of Jakub. The reflections back give his character substance to balance the absurd vision of a man hanging out and eating Nutella in outer space with a giant spider as his only friend. What gives it even more impact is the first person narration. Jakub tells us his own story, and his alien friend literally takes the reader inside Jakub's mind. The second half of the book does not quite live up to the first half, but ultimately, this is a book that makes me think and leaves me thinking about it days later. That makes it a good read for me.

I am excited that is a debut novel. I look forward to seeing where Jaroslav Kalfar's imagination goes next.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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