BookBrowse Reviews The Visible World by Mark Slouka

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The Visible World

by Mark Slouka

The Visible World by Mark Slouka
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 256 pages

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A moving novel about the vagaries of love and our need to make sense of life through the telling of stories

The first part of Slouka's second novel tells of the narrator's childhood growing up in post-World War II New York, the son of Antonín and Ivana Sedlák, Czech immigrants whose marriage is disintegrating under the weight of Ivana's love for the man she lost during the war.

In the second part of The Visible World it is 1986, two years after the narrator's mother has killed herself, and the narrator has moved to Prague in the hope of finding out what happened between his parents, and why his mother was unable to put behind herself events that took place forty years ago ("My mother erased herself so thoroughly that for a long time, I couldn't find her anywhere"); but all he finds are hints of fact and dead ends.

Many of us who find ourselves with reason to wonder about our ancestors fill the gaps in our knowledge with imaginings of what their lives were like (which is surely a great part of the attraction of movies and books set in the time period of our parents and grandparents). This blend of fact and fiction form the family myths that connect us to generations past. In the third and longest part of The Visible World the narrator takes the small nuggets of information that he has discovered about his parents' wartime experience and writes a novella that imagines the time and place when his parent's personal lives collided with real historical events involving the assassination of high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. In so doing he creates a tangible whole that leaves the reader well satisfied and, by extrapolation, forms a foundation of "truth" about his parents on which he can build the rest of his life.

Mark Slouka is the child of Czech immigrants and draws on his personal experience and the inevitable intrusions of the past on the present. He is the author of the novel God's Fool (2002), named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle, which tells the story of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins who toured with P.T. Barnum's circus in the 1830s before settling down to marry two different women and father 22 children. He is also the author of the short story collection Lost Lake, a New York Times Notable Book in 1998; and the nonfiction work War of the Worlds: Cyberspace and the High-Tech Assault on Reality (1995). Three of his essays have been selected for inclusion in The Best American Essays, and his short story "The Woodcarvers Tale" won the National Magazine Award for fiction. He is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, and is currently the director for the writing program at the University of Chicago.


*(From sidebar) All the male inhabitants of Lidice were shot, the women were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp and the children (other than a few that were sent to be re-educated in Aryan households) were poisoned by exhaust gas in specially adapted vehicles in the Nazi extermination camp at Chelmno in Poland. Then the village was flattened until no buildings remained. The Nazi attempt to wipe the village off the face of the earth failed. Several villages around the world took the name Lidice in memory, and many girls born at the time were named Lidice. 340 Lidice citizens were murdered, but after the war 143 women returned home to a new village that was built close by and, after a two-year search, 17 children were restored to their mothers.

This review was originally published in June 2007, and has been updated for the March 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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