Although the six stories are related in the first person and draw on autobiographical experiences, Klima's concern throughout is to transcend the anecdotal towards the widest and most general implications of the theme. The form of the book thus offers a consistent celebration of man's freedom from the tyranny of circumstance. 'The Archeologist's Story', ostensibly about a dig at a Celtic burial ground, broadens imperceptibly into a meditation on death, history and the spirit of place. 'The Courier's Story' is not only about a largely redundant job (ferrying data by hand between two computers) but about communication breakdown of all kinds, both political and interpersonal.
'The Engine Driver's Story' is a sarcastic parable of life under Communism: the narrator is prevented from driving his car by the harassment of the security police, but fulfils a childhood ambition when a fellow-dissident nonchalantly lets him take charge of a 400-ton freight train. The longest and most complex of these stories is the last, which effortlessly opens out Klima's experiences as a surveyor's assistant, via echoes of the land surveyor K in Kafka's The Castle, into a bleak survey of a civilisation blighted - perhaps terminally, as Klima suggests - by the arid
abstractions of political, social and scientific
In a story about smuggling banned books, Klima reflects ruefully that 'people sacrifice their time, put their freedom and even their lives at risk just to cross, or eliminate, borders they know are absurd. And then - often soon afterwards - in a single instant . . . the border disappears without a trace.' Some of the borders discussed in these stories have indeed been swept away since, but it is a measure of Klima's achievement that their brooding, tragic power is unaffected by this happy twist of history. The ultimate irony of the title is that Klima has turned the various humiliating trades which he was forced to practise into the purest artistic gold.Reuse content