Book Review: In the Garden of Men

John Kupferschmidt’s In the Garden of Men takes place in Czechoslovakia in 1968, after the Soviet Union has invaded. The narrator is a Party bureaucrat who has become disillusioned with the rise and fall of regimes in his country. He has convinced himself that he is apathetic and that goodness does not exist. Yet, when he is promoted to a job that requires him to process warrants for people who are engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, he struggles with the morality of the task. The idea of goodness begins to haunt him; he starts to seek it out, slowly opening himself up to experiences of love, hope and forgiveness. The novel was the winner of the 2007 Three-Day Novel Contest which means that it was written in 72 hours, and edited with a light hand upon being selected. At first, I was skeptical about the worth of a book that was written in such a short period of time. The opening scenes were a bit repetitive as the narrator turns again and again to the visions that torment him, and Kupferschmidt relies heavily on the construction “I thought of ” to help him recapitulate his main ideas. “I thought of those names,” he writes: “thoughts of Petr and Zdea still plagued me,” “I thought of Anežka,” “I thought of the butcher, his German wife and their children,” and so on. I realized quickly, however, that the contest is designed to frustrate values like mine. In fact, it celebrates itself for flying “in the face of the notion that novels take eight years of angst to produce.” In the Garden of Men demands to be read with altered generic expectations and enjoyed for its untidy wordiness and spontaneity. Kupferschmidt’s echoes guide the reader through his outpourings of imagery and effectively highlight his narrator’s madness. (Norah Franklin)

by John Kupferschmidt, 104 pages $14.95, Arsenal Pulp Press Suite 200, 341 Water Street, Vancouver, BC, V6B 1B8


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