52nd out of 82 books — 15 voters
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Originally circulated in Czechoslovakia in an underground edition of nineteen typewritten copies (which landed the author in jail for "initiating disorder"), The Questionnaire is Jiri Grusa's internationally acclaimed masterpiece. In completing a standard employment questionnaire, narrator Jan Kepka manages to write a beautifully impressionistic history of his life, his fa ...more
Paperback, 278 pages
Published 2000 by Dalkey Archive Press
(first published 1975)
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That the reading of this novel coincided with a stressful weekend (resulting in the brief inheriting of a dog) has invariably biased my final opinion. I put books of this kind into a mental category known uncreatively as The Interrupted: novels that were not served by rational-minded readings on the bed (where I do 95% of my reading) in a state of calm and comfort, but read in the wake of unwanted life-dramas. Escorting a former lover to A&E in the middle of Vollmann’s The Rainbow Stories ma ...more
Strange, compressed narrative that suffers from its proximity to The Tin Drum the way a candle suffers when placed next to a searchlight. Nevertheless, something uniquely "Czech" about the narrative, and I think it's the countryside (mysteriously present, though rarely described...could this be the map)/use of grotesques. Everyone has their little world, and Grusa knows how to abut these in a way that moves the plot along without it ever seeming like a plot (more, a history). Just don't read any ...more
Mar 11, 2016 Brandon rated it really liked it · review of another edition
A darkly amusing romp through Bohemian history as seen through the eyes of an unreliable (and terribly odd) narrator. J.Ch.P. travels through time and engages his former zek uncle in flights of astrological analysis and dream interpretation. It is easy to see why this piece of samizdat drew the ire of the authorities. It imagines the Czech past as one of external invasion and arbitrary terror at the hands of faceless forces. Habsburgs, Prussians, Nazis, and the Red Army all leave their mark on C ...more
One of the small group of novels that I reread every few years (or sometimes oftener, and sometimes not in full). I continue not to find the latter part of the book (once Jan Kepka has grown up) as compelling as the rest, but nonetheless this magical realist novel of occupied and Communist Czechoslovakia holds its place in my affections decade after decade.
Nov 25, 2015 Kai rated it really liked it · review of another edition
A modern classic of Samizdat literature from the Eastern Block states. Not strikingly political, but celebrating the freedom of speech and mind through eroticism, free-wheeling imagination, a touch of down-to-earth catholicism mixed with the tradition of picaresque novels and the achronic narrative style of the nouveau roman. It's great to see a Czech and an Austrian publishing house have ventured to edit and publish Gruša's complete works together.
The Questionnaire is a strange and unsettling piece. The complex plot structure and narrative structure are very interesting, and make the book worth reading alone. But, the content is beautiful and reaching. sometimes terrible, sometimes sublime. I highly recommend this.