"A frenetically imaginative first effort, booming with vitality and originality . . . Kalfar's voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks."-Jennifer Senior, New York Times Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction's 2017 First Novel Prize New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice Best New Fiction Wall Street Journal
An intergalactic odyssey of love, ambition, and self-discovery
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.
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.
Spaceman of Bohemia 4.5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
This is one of those novels where science fiction serves more as a backdrop to the central theme of the story. It’s more the philosophical musings of the main character on life, love and family. Haunted by the sins of his father, the protagonist struggles to put the past behind him. At times humorous, occasionally suspenseful, often times brooding, and in the end a sort of renewal. On the plus side, it is well written, the plot is unlike anything I’ve read before, and the main character’s life story is pretty interesting. Personally though I was hoping for more of a sci-fi story, and to be frank, what there was, I thought was a little weird. Overall, I would say for me it was good, but a little disappointing.
More than 1 year ago
This is a rather unusual, but excellent scifi story that has you gripped from the first pages. It deals with so many big themes: national identity; changing societal norms; contracts between individuals and between an individual and the state; inherited guilt; love and commitment; individual’s reactions to First Contact with an alien species; loneliness; madness; man’s humanity and inhumanity; what makes a life worth living; and the lengths that one will go to in order to live or to remain free.
The hero of the book, like the author, is Czech, and the love for their country, comes through loud and clear. It is not strident nationalism, rather a quiet pride in the beauty of their cities (Praha, Plzeň, Karlovy Vary), the culture and literature, the resilience during the difficult years of occupation (and the hope born of the Velvet Revolution, their past achievements and the dreams of achievements still to come. The book follows the physical and spiritual journey of Jakub Procházka, the Bohemian spaceman of the title, as he travels physically alone towards Venus, but with the hopes and dreams of his countrymen
During his flight to Venus, Jakob considers his life, his marriage and his country through a series of flashbacks. His childhood was blighted by the reputation of his father as a torturer of the communist government. First, he was indulged out of fear, then after the communist downfall, he was bullied for the sins of his dead father (“When my father the hero was lost, my father the nation’s villain came to light”. The space flight gives him a chance at restitution by dedicating his life to the new, free country. As the distance from earth increases, so does the emotional separation from his wife. Then, when Lenka disappears, Jakob is devastated. He continues to perform his tasks: “Filter testing, sensor cleaning, a more rigid exercise program to prepare me for possible emergency protocols, video chat events to satisfy the sense of ownership and pride of the taxpayers … dutifully but without much excitement”, though never forgets to mention a sponsor, even when talking to himself: “Bomba!, a revolution in home cleaning and mission sponsor”.
Then, everything changes when Hanuš appears – the diminutive, spider-like alien with a passion for Nutella – and (after a period of adjustment) Jakub has a friend, and a reason for living. Whether Hanuš is a hallucination or there in fact is really immaterial, he is a wonderful character, that you really want to be real. They both learn about each other’s world, and what is important to them: “If the body mattered to Hanuš, it mattered to me, and I would worship it as he had”, and all is going very well – until they reach the mission goal – the space cloud Chopra. But the book is only halfway through! What on earth (or more particularly in space) can possibly happen now?
There is a fantastic twist, that you cannot see coming, and the story just keeps getting better and better, and the grand themes play out to an even greater degree. At the end is acceptance and hope for the future.
This book is scifi and philosophy at its finest. The writing and imagery is superb. I hope there will be more from this talented writer – but please, no sequel – this book is perfection as it stands.
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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