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The Visible World

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  684 ratings  ·  132 reviews
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
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 19th 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,496)
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While I was reading this book, I couldn't say I liked it or not. It was like collecting little crocks together to gain the final picture. During reading, I was also confused by some facts of German occupation - I haven't lived through any occupation of our country (the Czech Republic) so I didn't catch some circumstance even if I was supposed so. But after all, after closing the book for the last time, I realised that all the pictures of characters' life made one huge picture of this book and I ...more
Within the first 12 pages of this book, I thought to myself, "I never want this book to end." And throughout the novel I grappled with that idea--I didn't want it to end, but I knew that I would not be able to withstand the emotional power and grief that Slouka packs into every page. Experiencing the War almost in real-time, from the perspective of someone living in Eastern Europe, enthralled the historian in me and prompted me to reassess how I conceptualize that period of history, to critique ...more
Beautifully written in luminous prose and built upon acute psychological observation, this is the story of a woman whose life is first illuminated and then blighted by her involvement with the Czech resistance during the second world war. It's told from the point of view of her son who slowly unearths his mother's hidden past in an effort to understand the suffocating sadness that surrounded her life. A masterpiece.
If you have loved someone and lost that person, then Mark Slouka‘s The Visible World is for you.

If you are loving a person you have not seen for decades, then this book is for you.

If you have been captured by love in spite of heartaches, and cannot forget, then this book is for you.

If you love America and Europe, then this book is for you.

If you love history, and literature, then this book is definitely for you.

The Visible World begins with a memoir and ends with a novel, craftily connected by a
This book has unsettled me, and I'm still mulling over why. Slouka, a professor of creative writing (Univ. of Chicago, then Columbia) places me under a waterfall of some of the most descriptive sentences I've ever read--so much so, that at times the sheer VOLUME of detail becomes overwhelming.

The book is divided into three sections: "The New World: A Memoir", "Prague: Intermezzo", and finally "1942: A Novel." Slouka, himself of Czech heritage, has built his book around the true story of the assa
Nov 19, 2012 Chrissie rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Daisy
This novel is split into three different sections: ""The New World", "Prague Intermezzo" and finally "1942: A Novel". The book's narrator is the son of Czechoslovakian parents. He is seeking to understand and to make sense of the events of his childhood and the estrangement he felt between his mother and father. The first part is set in the US, in Queens, where the boy grew up. This part is written as a memoir. The reader sees the parents' relationship through the eyes of the child. It concludes ...more
This novel gets four stars for the sheer beauty of the prose. I've never read a book, pencil in hand, softly underlining the most beautiful of sentences - but with this one, I couldn't help myself.

"Winter. It was as if the year would never die".

"There are people like that, after all - individuals who resist the current, who hold out against the betrayal. Who refuse to take their small bouquet of misremembered moments and leave. You'll run into them at the deli counter, or while waiting in line a
The book starts out a tough read. The first third is told from the narrator's perspective, he's the son in the story. But then he tells the last two thirds of the book from his parents' perspectives, and it's a love story combined with a tale of WWII intrigue and tragedy. It's totally worth slogging through the first part to get to the really good story because it's so fantastic.
This is a beautifully written book. The writing is fluent and reads like poetry. The themes of love, loss, war, family are all extremely well dealt with. I will definitely read more books by this author.
Deborah Gray
This is a difficult book to get into, but well worth the effort. The weaving of memoir, history and novel is artfully and successfully done, in my opinion, so that you are equally drawn to each, although I found the imagined love story and the real assasination account to be more compelling than the true story on which the book was based. Perhaps it is the attempt of the author to fill in the gaps for himself of his difficult childhood, or perhaps his existence with his psychologically damaged m ...more
There are those who say 'good books' must be difficult to read. In general I don't agree with that, but in this case, this book is both good, in several senses, and difficult to read, in several senses.

The difficult part is both structural and moral - the first third of the book is written as a memoir: the son of a woman who is clearly emotionally troubled and distant from her husband and child begins to explore her past in the hope of discovering what has caused her to behave so painfully. His
This is a novel partly about the power of stories in our personal and national identities and histories. The narrator tells his story and that of his Czech parents from a comntemporary vantage point in America and Prague. At the heart of the novel is a tragedy in a church crypt in 1942 and a painfully beautiful love story. I found it incredibly moving. Epic in scale, the beauty is in the detail. Reviewers on the backcover blurb make comparisons to The English Patient - but this is an easier read ...more
Caitriona H
Another recommendation from and a similar size and subject area to her previous The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (see my previous review).

This book is about the lives of people from Czechoslovakia- primarily Prague- during and after the Second World War. I visited Prague before Christmas, to see so I was able to remember many of the places described in the book. In fact, the most interesting aspect of reading this story for me
I really enjoyed this book and the creativity of the author in developing it in three sections/perspectives. First we learn about the main character, what he gleans from his immigrant parents' lives and the circumstances of Czechoslovakia during WWII by listening to their stories about as he grows up in New York. Then, as a young man, he goes to the country himself and tries to find people who may have known his parents or who can tell him more about the snippets of family history (intertwined w ...more
Possibly my new favoritest book ever!
I'm just not the ind of girl who can call a book a masterpiece. i just can't!
so what do i say? Mark Slouka's novel of an American-born man longing to piece together the fragmented history of his Czech parents is positively breathtaking. (Am I the kind of girl who says breathtaking?) Equal parts suspenseful World War II saga, family memoir, and extraordinary romance, The Visible World is a wonderful read!
The first section of this book is called a memoir and it feels a bit slow and self-indulgent in the way memoirs can be, but the last section is absolutely beautiful and makes me want to re-read the first part to see how the narratives bounce back and forth and enhance one another. Though the pace of the book is slow (in a lovely, thoughtful way), it can be read quickly.
This is a superb book. Oprah magazine recommended it, and I got it just because it was about Prague and we are planning a trip to Prague. This book offered me so much more than information about Prague. It is part memoir, part fiction, part history. It is beautifully written and interestingly structured. I highly recommend it.
Pretty moving. First generation American son to Czech parents involved in the Resistance goes back to Czech Republic to unearth their story. The second part of the book, which takes place in Czech in 1942-on, feels immediate enough to make your stomach turn over in places. Felt kind of unrelentingly sad.
Kat Michalets
This is an extremely hard book for me to rate. The prose throughout was some of the most beautifully written that I have ever read so I would give the book 5 stars based on that. However, the first two sections were so wandering and eventually borderline tedious that I would only give it 1 star. The final section truly redeemed the book, which was interesting and a real page turner. I wish Slouka would have made the book into a novella and only used the third part of the book. I felt like the fi ...more
First and foremost this is a novel. The reason why I state this from the beginning of this review is that it initially reads as a slightly whimsical memoir, which is clearly a device. Stylistically clever the first half of the story has the the vagaries and half recollections of a adult reminiscing on his childhood in New York. Slouka uses the style of half remembered events and semi-comprehended moments to great affect.

The narrator describes growing up in New York, the son of Czech emigres in a
This book is gorgeous. So beautifully written. Possible addition to my top 5 list. Loved it.
Joe Wilkins
Simply one of the best novels I have ever read. Wrecked me in all the right ways.
OK by read it I mean skim a third of it and skip ahead to get to the relevant details. It's a shame because the subject matter and setting is facinating; I don't claim to know anything of Czech culture/history. The plot holding it together just did not work for me at all. I found it overburdened with metaphors and smilies. As if the writer is trying to be too clever. It would have been smarter to use simpler language and it actually *make sense* but never mind. Then underneath all that tricksy t ...more
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Nov 15, 2008 Joyce rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who read a lot
I truly enjoyed this book. I liked the writing and the flow and the vignettes that gave so much feeling to the characters.

I think that possibly this book would appeal to European readers more than Americans. It is not about plot and story, per se.

Rather, it starts with the author's memories, then moves to his attempt as an adult to find out more about his parents' pasts, and then the third movement is his imagining of what might have happened once he's collected and observed.

Beyond the personal
I've come back to this review to add a link to an article Slouka wrote in the New Yorker. It contains all the info that was left out, somehow, of this book. And is heart rending (words I don't use often).
I had to go back and see what this one was about. That's a sign that it was only ok. The writing was good. And it had an interesting structure - starting with a fictional memoir, an "intermezzo", then a fictional novel. Mr. Slouka was examining the Czech
Beautiful, dreamy prose, which make even the uneventful parts of the novel pleasurable in some way. A story about a man's search to understand his mother's past. The first section describes the narrator's childhood growing up in the United States in the shadow of Czech history, his parents part in the resistance, and the handful of Czech expats that surrounded him like family throughout his young life. In the second section, the narrator relocates to the Czech Republic and tries to find answers ...more
This is a beautifully written book which helps the reader grasp the tragedy of war and the fact that people have to live with the events forever. The narrators mother has a story which is part of her very make up and throughout his childhood he is aware she loved a man in the war but doesn't know the story and cannot get information from his parents.

In the third part of the book we get to find out what happened in Prague and Czech Republic all those years ago. The love affair is touching and be
I can see what the author was trying to do with this book, and perhaps if I had read it at a different time, or was in a different mood, or re-read it again, I would get it more than I did on this reading. The book is split into three parts (as a child, as a man, a novelisation), with the author telling the story of his mother and her great love affair with a man who wasn't his father, and how that caused her all the issues he was aware of while growing up.

The first part of the book just takes
Ellen Keim
A brief, poignant book about a tragic love affair against the backdrop of Nazi Germany. I really liked the way it was written and the narrator's voice. There are actually multiple levels to the story and the author skillfully weaves them together in a simple, understated way which has more impact than an all-out horrors-of-war story would have had. As a historian, I also appreciated the way the author made historical events seem all too real.
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Mark Slouka is the author of four previous works of fiction including Lost Lake, a New York Times Notable Book, and The Visible World, a finalist for the British Book Award. His 2011 essay collection, "Essays from the Nick of Time," was the winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Speilvogel Award. A contributing editor at Harper’s, Slouka’s work has also appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best America ...more
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