An intergalactic odyssey of love, ambition, and self-discovery
Spaceman of Bohemia Synopsis :
Orphaned as a boy, raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Procházka has risen from small-time scientist to become the country’s first astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him both the chance at heroism he’s dreamt of, and a way to atone for his father’s sins as a Communist informer, he ventures boldly into the vast unknown. But in so doing, he leaves behind his devoted wife, Lenka, whose love, he realizes too late, he has sacrificed on the altar of his ambitions.
Alone in Deep Space, Jakub discovers a possibly imaginary giant alien spider, who becomes his unlikely companion. Over philosophical conversations about the nature of love, life and death, and the deliciousness of bacon, the pair form an intense and emotional bond. Will it be enough to see Jakub through a clash with secret Russian rivals and return him safely to Earth for a second chance with Lenka?
Rich with warmth and suspense and surprise, Spaceman of Bohemia is an exuberant delight from start to finish. Very seldom has a novel this profound taken readers on a journey of such boundless entertainment and sheer fun.
After disagreeing with Spaceman of Bohemia‘s categorisation as speculative fiction, and subsequently being asked “What exactly is it then?”, Kalfar’s response was:
It’s literary historical science fiction with a philosophical bent in a romantic tradition… My biggest hope is for the book to be something the reader has never read before.” (Guardian)
Spaceman of Bohemia exhibits many strengths, but also a common shortcoming of literary debuts.
The ambition, scale and originality of this story is quite literally out of this world, and deserving of great admiration. Kalfar is an inimitable wordsmith and his descriptions of people and locations at times evoke beauty, timelessness and wonder, while at others an engaging yet sardonic irreverence. His investment in and passion for his characters is clear, and yields many unassuming yet deeply moving moments. This novel’s settings, the cities and tumultuous history of the region that was for a time named Czechoslovakia, are very much characters in their own right also.
Without the painters, pickpockets, and strolling couples, the bridge would be a cold, terrifying reminder of Gothic overindulgence. But here we are, the winos and leather-clad Eurotourists and Prague lovebirds eager for a Sunday beer buzz and a stroll along the water, providing the bridge with the humor and gentleness it needs. In exchange, the bridge makes us feel like our history goes back beyond the day we signed up for a bank account.
But Spaceman of Bohemia‘s weakness is perhaps the investment of too much thought, and dare I say it, at times too much of a good thing. From nimble and quirky beginnings, this novel felt a little weighed down by existential philosophy and literary excess by its end. Having consumed this title via e-reader, that I was very surprised to later find out that it is only 288 pages in hardcover, is telling.
That Jaroslav Kalfar has interesting stories to tell and enviable skills with which to do so is in no doubt – Spaceman of Bohemia serves as an impressive tasting plate, and I hope indication of what we can look forward to in the future from this author.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
Genre: Literature, Sci-Fi-Fantasy, Historical, Drama, Romance
About the Author, Jaroslav Kalfar
Jaroslav Kalfar was born and raised in Prague, Czech Republic, and immigrated to the United States at the age of fifteen. He earned an MFA at New York University, where he was a Goldwater Fellow and a nominee for the inaugural E. L. Doctorow Fellowship. He lives in Brooklyn. This is his first novel.
- Interview with Flavorwire – ‘Jaroslav Kalfar on Stition, Dog Parks, and a Lonely Czech Astronaut’
- Connect with Jaroslav on Twitter and Facebook
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* My receiving a copy of Spaceman of Bohemia from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.