Pavel and I
Set in Berlin during the deadly cold Christmas season of 1946, this is a story of intrigue and murder, peopled with armies and spies at the beginning of the Cold War. Pavel Richter is a decommissioned American soldier who, for reasons not made clear, has chosen not to return home. Although he suffers from a kidney infection that could be fatal, he has taken under his wing an illiterate, orphaned street urchin named Anders, to whom he reads Dickens’ Oliver Twist, which at times seems to parallel Anders’ own life. Pavel’s existence is further complicated by feelings for the beautiful Sonia, his prostitute neighbor, whose several lovers include a friend of Pavel’s, a midget who is a Russian agent, and a brutal British general, any of whom may be the enemy.
Dan Vyleta, a Czech, has written a suspenseful novel, rich in vivid description of the challenges and horrors suffered by civilian populations in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when essential services such as electricity, telephone, and water are only sporadically available to the general population. Civilians live in houses, half of which are bombed-out rubble, chopping up furniture for firewood. The true necessities cost a fortune and can only be purchased on the black market. Mr. Vyleta has written this novel in English, his second language, and occasionally there is an odd sentence structure. The story shifts back and forth from straight narrative to first person point of view that, at times, is jarring. Nevertheless, Mr. Vyleta does a superb job of putting the reader in the time and place.