The first English translation of Czech author Ungar's extremely
interesting second novel, published in 1927, preceding the
better-known The Maimed (1928, 2002). Josef Blau, schoolteacher,
has a full-blown case of paranoia, driven by an unrelenting sense
of inferiority from having been born to the working class. Now,
he's absolutely certain that his group of 18 high-school boys-all
from the very well-off classes-are simply biding their time,
waiting for him to make some mistake that will let them get the
upper hand and ride rough-shod over him, revealing that his
authority over them is baseless, humiliating him utterly. A more
strict keeper of order, therefore, you could hardly imagine than
Josef Blau, so stiff and formal that Ungar never even mentions him
except by his full name: Josef Blau-not even in the scenes in his
apartment at home with his pregnant (and very pretty) wife Selma,
his mother-in-law, and their frequent visitor Uncle Bobek,
gourmand, souse, sponge, nostalgist, braggart. What will happen? On
an outing into the countryside, Josef Blau is certain he hears his
boys taunt him-especially when he then senses them turning toward
Herr Leopold, the handsome, companionable, athletic new instructor.
Things only worsen as Josef Blue runs into money trouble, thinks
Herr Leopold is wooing Selma, and believes that the richest boy in
his class has a secret that he's about to use to humiliate his
instructor. Josef Blau's childhood friend, the very strange and
bitterly class-conscious Modlizki, suggests a plan to turn the
tables and get something to blackmail the boy in return-by spying
on him in the red light district. But there's a snag, and the plan
brings results more horrifying than ever intended or imagined, and
the question becomes one of whether Josef Blau can survive at all.
Like a glimpse three-quarters of a century back into a world that
has wholly vanished: formal, constrained, class-ridden,
quintessentially European. Fascinating. (Kirkus Reviews)
Josef Blau is a high school teacher who comes from a poor
background, poorer than that of most of his pupils. The insecurity
this causes him leads to an obsession with order and discipline. He
senses his pupils watching him, waiting for the slightest weakness;
the least infringement, he feels, will lead to the complete
collapse of this tightly ordered world. The other focus of his
obsession is his attractive wife. Despite al the evidence and her
assurances, he cannot believe she will be faithful to him. He
forces her to shave her hair and wear clothes that are no more than
shapeless sacks, yet still cannot conquer his fears. Catastrophe is
looming and, once the first breach is made inevitable. 'We are all
schoolchildren, ' Blau says, 'in one great class...
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