I just finished this long, dense novel and my head is swimming. Topol is the real deal: a creative, mad genius whose head is bursting with an insane amount of knowledge. One of the themes Topol touches on is how "time exploded" following Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolution, and consequently, the book has an almost post-Apocalyptic feel to it.
The plot follows the narrator, Potok, a twenty-something Prague kid, who forms a "byznys" tribe in the wake of the 40-year communist rule. We then track his odyssey through the dissolution of his tribe; his search for his Sister soul-mate (foretold by an ex-girlfriend); and finally his wanderings in the dreamscape borders of Czechoslovakia, the fringes of Prague, and ultimately, the hinterlands in himself. If the events of the narrative are a bit muddled at times, it doesn't really matter, especially in the chapters that depict Potok's dealings with ex-government spies who re-surface as spooks-for-hire. Topol uses this confusion to mirror a country-wide puzzlement about the re-emergence of former Party apparatchiks into the private sector after the fall of communism.
Despite its episodic feel, City Sister Silver isn't about plot. In essence, this is a story *about* telling stories, and the events of the narrative serve to that end. Topol, a playful mythomaniac and raconteur at heart, embraces the tradition of oral storytelling and the accuracy-flaws inherent in such babel. CSS of the East Germans," when thousands from that country sought asylum in Prague's West German embassy in 1989); Native American history-cum-legend; Old Bohemio-Celtic tribal-war tales; revisionist Greek mythology (a re-imagining of Odysseus and Penelope that has Homer rolling in his grave); mock-American tall-tales; Urban legends (a snuff film); modern cliche's (a prison rape); Grimms' fairy tales; a riff on a fictional comic book; and most unnerving, a chilling Auschwitz dream sequence, replete with a talking-skeleton tour guide and an endless morass of human bones. Someone is always telling a story in CSS, but the tales always entertain and engage; they never seem forced, superfluous or pretentious.
In raving about CSS to various friends, I found myself comparing Topol to a host of different writers, and yet, as in all great literature, this novel remains unique. Topol invokes everyone from fellow Czechs Bohumil Hrabal, Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek, to others such as Celine, Pynchon, Kerouac, Irvine Welsh, Blaise Cendrars, and Anthony Burgess. Every reader will find as many different comparisons (I saw one reviewer liken the novel to the best of Gunther Grass and Salman Rushdie).
One caveat, which is confession by Potok, and at first punctuation seems arbitrary (e.g., Topol is fond of ellipses and the sentence fragment-as-sentence). Like Burgess's Clockwork Orange and Welsh's Trainspotting, it takes a good fifteen or twenty pages to get into the rhythm of the slang, but once you get with it, the book flows like water. Afterall, this is a book about the beauty and elasticity of language, and the tales one can spin using creative language. Finally, I should point out the smooth translation of this novel by Alex Zucker, who took on an obviously gargantuan task, and who rounded out his duties with an engaging translator's preface and insightful and erudite end notes.