The ten stories in The View from Stalin’s Head unfold in the post–Cold War Prague of the 1990s—a magnet not only for artists and writers but also for American tourists and college grad deadbeats, a city with a glorious yet sometimes shameful history, its citizens both resentful of and nostalgic for their Communist past. Against this backdrop, Aaron Hamburger conjures an arresting array of characters: a self-appointed rabbi who runs a synagogue for non-Jews; an artist, once branded as a criminal by the Communist regime, who hires a teenage boy to boss him around; a fiery would-be socialist trying to rouse the oppressed masses while feeling the tug of her comfortable Stateside upbringing. European and American, Jewish and gentile, straight and gay, the people in these stories are forced to confront themselves when the ethnic, religious, political, and sexual labels they used to rely on prove surprisingly less stable than they’d imagined.
As Christopher Isherwood did in his Berlin Stories, Aaron Hamburger offers a humane and subtly etched portrait of a time and place, of people wrestling with questions of love, faith, and identity. The View from Stalin’s Head is a remarkable debut, and the beginning of a remarkable career.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of Mystery & Detective eBook: The View from Stalin's Head|
|Release Date: 03-09-2004|
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|Publisher: Random House Publishing Group|
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The View from Stalin's Head
A Man of the Country
All fairy tales have in common not “once upon a time” but an unlikely pairing of characters who under normal circumstances would never have met. Like a former waiter from Madison, Wisconsin, and a giant.
Jirka is tall and tlusty, which translates roughly into “thick.” It is an equally useful word for describing people who weigh over two hundred pounds as well as books that clock in at over a thousand pages. His nose, chin, and fingers are fleshy and full of life. The only subtle thing about his looks is his smile, which curls up in the corners of his lips as if he’s winking at you.
We met on a subway platform. I was standing under an ad for the new Pizza Hut, my nose buried in a book with the cover wrapped in brown paper. A guy from Minnesota advised me to cover all my English books to avoid being hassled by undercover ticket inspectors on the subway.
Jirka picked me out of the crowd to ask if he could take a picture of my nose.
“It is regret I do not understand what you have said,” I told him in Czech.
“Where are you from?” he asked. He wore a bright yellow knit cap over his mangy curls and a dull blue winter jacket that looked like he’d slept in it. I wore a full-length Czech gray raincoat to hide my American clothes.
“I am a man of America but I speak a little of Czech.”
His eyes, already big and round like moons, widened. “You are American and you can speak Czech?”
I said, “Is it contrary to a law for an American to speak Czech?” Sometimes I was reckless in languages that were not my own.