The Attempt

Written by Alex Zucker (trans.) Magdaléna Platzová
Review by Jackie Drohan

The English edition of Czech author Platzová’s latest novel is a condensed and masterful example of experimental literary fiction with historical roots: a nesting of contemporary and generational storylines, epistolary and narrative, personal, political, and social perspective, in the tradition of Prus, Kundera, and Vonnegut.

In the wake of a failed marriage, journalist Jan Schwarzer relocates from Prague to New York City during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is there ostensibly to write a book on the pre-war assassination attempt of a U.S industrialist by an anarchist writer who may, or may not, be his ancestor. But as he investigates, interviews the magnate’s surviving descendants, and pores through the correspondence of the jailed shooter and his lovers and friends, the event foreshadows much deeper interconnections: his personal longings, political mood, the despair and disparity of his own life and time.

The politics are murky, and those looking for pure anti-capitalist polemic will be disappointed. But helpless disappointment with political ideals and their aftermath is a core motif – compare the affective tableau of Milan Kundera’s post-war Eastern Europe. Platzová paints a contemporary New York of neo-Bohemian values, slowly, but finally inheriting the sense of lost grandeur long native to European urbanity. Her writing style is varied, sparing, insightful, and at times nothing short of poetic. Enthusiastically recommended.