Danny Smiricky is a Czech novelist who has lived for seven years in exile in Canada during the 1970s and teaches at a college.
One of his students is Irene, to whom he is morbidly attracted.
He reminisces about the war, when he was chasing a girl, Nadia, who was
fascinated by the resistance and in particular by an act of sabotage
carried out by Dan's friend Prema. To seduce her, Danny came up with a silly
plan of sabotage, taking advantage of the fact that they were both working in
a German factory.
While he jumps back and forth in time, he also reads letters dated from the
time of World War II.
He tells the funny story of his father's leg, which smelled like Gorgonzola
because of an infection he got in the war.
Back to the present, he is afraid that the Czech secret police is sending
agents after him, as strange Czech people approach him with silly excuses.
His best friend in exile is a fellow Czech, Dotty, who tells the story of how
one of her friends, Lida, had become a prostitute for the Nazis.
The sabotage failed miserably because Dan and Nadia were discovered by the
foreman of the factory, who then mercifully helped them fix the sabotage to
save their skins.
Some letters are dated from 1976 by a young Canadian left-wing activist, Booker,
and addressed to Lida, the former prostitute who still lives in Prague.
Another student is Veronika.
Another professor is Rocky, who teaches avantgarde theater by having his
students physically attack him.
Some letters are dated from the early communist era. One is from Prema who
emigrated in Australia.
Back to the nazist era, Dan was so scared after the foreman found out about
his plans that he contemplated joining a seminary. He visits Prema's father,
Skocdopole, who tells him how he fought against the communists during the
revolution. Dan reminisces about Pytlic, who worked for the nazis during the
war and then for the communists after the liberation.
Back to the nazi era, Dan has loved Irena for six years, with the exception of
Nadia and Marie.
Margitka is Dan's lover in Canada. She is 40-year old and is married to a man
in a wheelchair.
Margitka suspects that they are being spied and confesses that she was faithful
to her husband during the ten years that he was in jail as a political prisoner
under communism. Another former political prisoner, Bocar, tells the story of
how they were arrested for plotting anti-communist activities and they all
confessed for fear of being shot.
Back to the time of the German occupation, Nadia is worried about Dan, convinced
that Dan will soon be arrested unless he hides in the forest and joins the
resistance. Dan takes advantage of Nadia's feelings towards his heroism and
finally has sex with her, thereby losing his virginity (on a cold winter night
during which Nadia fell sick).
However he was also in love with Irena and Marie, both of whom he had courted
for years unsuccessfully. (In a letter he receives after the war a friend
informs him that Marie is pregnant and getting married with Franta).
Four years later, under Soviet occupation (instead of German occupation), Prema
and Dan were again plotting an act of sabotage. It failed pathetically like the
previous one, and a lot of the conspirators were arrested. Prema managed to
flee, and Dan was not implicated, but Dan's father was arrested.
Back to the present, Dan is attending a party at which Veronika makes a fool
of herself, despite being the girlfriend of Perceval/Percy. Percy's sister
Irene provokes Dan while smoking marijuana. Dan comments that in that age and
place everything is possible, but how about something nice.
After the war, Dan met Irena again. She was now married to a jealous man who
had just discovered a book that Dan had written for Irena, detailing not only
his failed attempts at seducing her but (more damagingly) Irena's many love
affairs. The husband first invited Dan in and sarcastically left them alone,
but then returned to throw him out. Dan had time to tell Irena that he would
always love her, but Irena coldly replied that she would never sleep with him.
Back to the Nazist era, at the factory Dan was summoned by the German-American
controller Uippelt. Dan panicked when he realized that Uippelt had found out
about the sabotage, but then Uippelt simply gave him a secret assignment,
revealing that he too was working against the Germans. Nonetheless Dan continued
to live in fear, both for himself and for Nadia, who had fallen sick with
tubercolosis and was not showing up at work anymore.
Back to the present, Booker writes his love to Lida from Toronto.
Back to the Canadian exile era, Dan meets fellow Czech emigrants at the party.
They are conspiring to stage a coup in Czechoslovakia and he enrolls in the
secret society. One of them is soon killed by a sniper, probably a killer hired
by the Czech secret services.
Back to the Nazist era, a worried Dan was hanging out in front of Nadia's place,
seeing only her fiance Franta but not Nadia. His old flame Marie made fun of
him and revealed that she too had lost her virginity.
That was at the beginning of the war. The book then jumps to the end of the war,
when Franta helps both Nadia and Dan to hide. The foreman has been arrested
for the attempted sabotage. Prema knows that the Germans have lost the war and
don't really care anymore, and that there is a new enemy to fear: the Soviet
army that is advancing.
One day Franta hit Dan so violently that he had to be hospitalized. Dan and
everybody else thought that Franta had found out about his affair with Nadia,
still formally engaged to Franta. Instead Franta told Dan that it was because
Dan had endangered Nadia's life by involving her in the sabotage plan.
Franta, a pure of heart, had not realized that Dan and Nadia had slept together.
Letters sent to Dan during the communist era by Prema from Australia and by
the poet Jan, who debates what poetry should be under socialism.
Now the story is told by Dan while on a boat with a bunch of decadent Canadian
friends, all of them stoned, including Irene. He defines himself a "living
stream of consciousness" and in fact the description of the boat trip is
interspersed with all sorts of reminiscences and letters.
Elsewhere, a drunk Milan tries to make love to Veronika, who is not interested.
But someone sees her there and thinks that Milan succeeded.
Back to communist Czechoslovakia,
Dan had learned of the execution of Prema's saboteurs during a train trip,
sitting next to an old acquaitance, Uher, who had refused to hide Prema after the act
of sabotage against the Germans. Dan recalled how he had helped Prema escape
in time, but the others had all been captured and now executed. Dan was alive
only because they had not betrayed him. Reading the distorted biography of
Prema in the official newspaper, Dan was revolted but quickly realized that
his old friend Uher was now a strong believer in communism and was accompanied
by two sinister figures who started asking Dan about his contacts with Prema.
Dan was just beginning to learn how dangerous the new masters were.
A letter by a friend written when Marie's daughter was seven-years old informs
him that Marie would like to see him and gives him the days when Franta is not
home. While Dan had secretely slept with Nadia, Franta had secretely slept with
After the end of the war, as he was going to the cinema with Irena, Dan saw that
the communists had captured Uippelt. He rushed to tell them that Uippelt had
saved his life and worked for the resistance too. But in vain. When he was
finally allowed to visit Uippelt he found that the man had been beaten to death
by his "interrogators".
A Rebecca was writing from Israel to thank Dan for what he did to help her and
her son David when they were still in Czechoslovakia.
On the boat Irene finally offers herself to Dan, but Dan understands that the
provoking blonde is actually still a virgin, and refuses her, without exactly
knowing why. Then Dan starts telling her a story, the same story he tried to
tell Marie's daughter Daniela, when he finally went to visit them. It's a funny
story of an incident that happened when he and a friend tried to peek at
a naked Marie in the public baths. But both stories (the one he tells Irene and
the one he tried to tell Daniela, one interrupted by the other) are not
completed because 1. he was interrupted by Marie while he was telling Daniela
about the old incident, and 2. the novel just jumps to other scenes.
All the readers are told is that Marie's naked body revealed something that no
other woman had.
Dan met Nadia again almost towards the end of the war, when she was about to
get married to Franta. Franta was not home and Nadia begged Dan to let her
sleep with him. Nadia was very sick and fully aware of dying.
Obviously she was very much in love with Dan, not knowing that Dan had only
wanted her out of lust.
The tale is interspersed not only with letters addressed to Dan but also with
the letters that Booker the left-wing activist writes to Lida, in which he
shows that he believes to the letter to the Soviet propaganda.
Back to the communist time, Dan learns that the foreman who hid his sabotage
to the Nazis was a member of a network of partisans. The reason he hid his
sabotage was that he did not want their important plans to be derailed by
the pathetic action of an amateur. Now he is fighting the Soviet invaders.
It is the foreman who tells Dan that Franta married Marie after Nadia died.
Percy dumps Veronika after learning that she slept with Milan. They were
having political arguments anyway. Irene thinks that the Czech man who slept
with Veronika is Dan and stages a hysterical scene. Then Dan takes her virginity.
Dan learns that Uher was liquidated after he sided with Dubcek in the 1968
We learn from a newspaper article that Jan the poet had hanged himself,
probably in protest for the 1968 crack-down.
Dan meets Uher again, this time in Canada. Dan is drunk and insults Uher
the informer. But in reality Dan is not sure if Uher was spying on Dubcek
or was honestly for Dubcek.
Milan reports that Veronika has gone insane.
Dan learns that Prema has died in a hurricane in Australia.
Rebecca writes from Israel and her son David and his wife were killed
by a bomb.
Dotty tells Dan the truth about Booker's letters to Lida: she had arranged
for Booker to pretend to be in love with Lida. It was a way to get Lida out
of Chechoslovakia: pretend that a Canadian who was an orthodox communist
had falled in love with Lida and wanted to marry her.
Unfortunately Booker started writing letters
that were "too" orthodox and the Czech police understood that it was merely
a trick to convince the authorities to let Lida travel abroad.
Veronika sends a telegram to Dan that contains only one sentence: "I am a fool".
The last two chapters have fewer recollections and more chronicle of life
in the emigre community of Canada.