Karen Leigh
April 13, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Mark Slouka’s narrator, the unnamed son of Czech immigrants in modern Queens, N.Y., wants to learn about his mother’s past — effervescent in her younger years, Ivana has deteriorated into near despair. Soon after her death, the son moves to Prague and begins filling in the blanks (details of Ivana’s passionate romance with a Czech resistance fighter, for instance) with his own inventions. Slouka’s characters in The Visible World pop — the Czech old-timers are a particular hoot — and he demonstrates a shattering ability to capture humanity in its bleakest moments: ”My mother erased herself so thoroughly that for a long time, I couldn’t find her anywhere.”

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