Summary and book reviews of The Visible World by Mark Slouka

The Visible World

By Mark Slouka

The Visible World
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2007,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2008,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

The Visible World is an evocative, powerfully romantic novel about a son's attempt to understand his mother's past, a search that leads him to a tragic love affair and the heroic story of the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi by the Czech resistance. The narrator of The Visible World, the American-born son of Czech immigrants living in New York, grows up in an atmosphere haunted by fragments of a past he cannot understand. At the heart of that past is his mother, Ivana, a spontaneous, passionate woman drifting ever closer to despair. As an adult, the narrator travels to Prague, hoping to learn about a love affair between his then young mother and a member of the resistance named Tomas, an affair whose untimely end, he senses, lay behind Ivana's unhappiness. Ultimately unable to complete his knowledge of the past, he imagines the two lovers as participants in one of the more dramatic (and true) moments of the war, and through the deeply romantic story he tells, creates not only the ending of their story but the beginning of his own.

The Visible Worldis a literary page-turner and an immensely moving novel about the vagaries of love and our need to make sense of life through the telling of stories.

1

One night when I was young my mother walked out of the country bungalow we were staying in in the Poconos. I woke to hear my father pulling on his pants in the dark. It was very late, and the windows were open. The night was everywhere. Where was he going? I asked. “Go back to sleep,” he said. Mommy had gone for a walk. He would be right back, he said.

But I started to cry because Mommy had never gone for a walk in the forest at night before and I had never woken to find my father pulling on his pants in the dark. I did not know this place, and the big windows of moonlight on the floor frightened me. In the end he told me to be brave and that he would be back before I knew it and pulled on his shoes and went searching for his wife. And found her, eventually, sitting against a tree or by the side of a pond in her tight-around-the-calf slacks and frayed tennis shoes, fifteen years too late.

My mother knew a man during the war. Theirs was a love...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The Visible World is divided into three sections—"The New World: A Memoir," "Prague: Intermezzo," and "1942: A Novel"—each of which represents a different approach to the same essential story. Which section, do you think, is most "true"? Why? How do the three sections play off of each other to create a complex whole?
  2. The first section begins with the narrator stating, "I was born ... into a world that felt just slightly haunted." What haunts his family, his community? How do the ghosts of the past shape the course of the narrator's life?
  3. The narrator says of his childhood: "I collected the facts like a child hoping to build an oak from bits of bark." Do you believe that the narrator is...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Slouka creates a tangible whole that leaves the reader well satisfied and, by extrapolation, forms a foundation of "truth" about the narrator's parents on which he can build the rest of his life.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (1101 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Eva Hoffman

The Visible World is a sensitive and formally inventive elaboration of complex and elusive themes; despite its flaws, there is much to enjoy in its hidden implications and its nuanced narrative surfaces.

Entertainment Weekly - Karen Leigh

Slouka's characters ... pop — the Czech old-timers are a particular hoot — and he demonstrates a shattering ability to capture humanity in its bleakest moments: ''My mother erased herself so thoroughly that for a long time, I couldn't find her anywhere.''

Publisher's Weekly

The suspense is well paced, and the action scenes are vividly recounted. Slouka's novel has a poignant verve.

Booklist - Sarah Johnson

This is a penetrating, beautifully composed novel from a writer with a tangible sense of place and period.

Library Journal

The format bears the fruit of Slouka's cogent thesis: the value of storytelling is in its ability to fill the holes created by memory's inadequacy and the evasiveness of loved ones. Highly recommended.

Author Blurb Richard Ford
His novel's power lives in the imaginative effort…to portray loss that is inherited…It's a moving book.

Author Blurb Ha Jin, author of Waiting
The Visible World reveals what is invisible within us. It's a pure pleasure to turn its pages.

Author Blurb Stuart Dybek
[Slouka's] style seamlessly merges a simple clarity with atmospheric lushness…[The Visible World] is this gifted writer's most ambitious book.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Berg, author of Durable Goods and Range of Motion
Rich with intelligence and poetic detail, The Visible World demonstrates why Mark Slouka is one of our finest contemporary novelists.

Author Blurb Steve Yarbrough
A masterful work, it calls to mind the very finest Czech writers...I will re-read [it] again and again.

Reader Reviews
dora goldemberg

Ms Hoffmann
To go through the pages of this novel has opened up my renovated impulse to write. I´d highly appreciate to learn what exactly did Ms Hoffmann mean by "in spite of its flaws"; I consider "The Visible World" a piece of art...so let me learn what´...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Czechoslovakia
The lands now known as The Czech Republic and Slovakia were ruled by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire for about 300 years until the end of World War I and the collapse of the empire. In 1918, a union was proclaimed between the Czech lands and Slovakia to form the Czechoslovakian state, an idea that had been advocated by Czech and Slovak political leaders and intellectuals for sometime. However, although the majority of Czechs and Slovaks shared a similar language they held ...

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