Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jan Chrysostom Kepka

Jan Chrysostom Kepka (HREH-soh-stohm), a self-professed time traveler (Jan Chrysostom Chrononaut) and the main protagonist of the novel, as well as its narrator. Strangely enough, Jan is present at his own carefully observed conception and, later, at his unexpected death. The nature of the narrative, however, allows him both to die and to continue living and telling. Most of the time, Jan addresses his remarks to a certain functionary named Pavlenda, usually called “Comr. Pavlenda,” with the title of “Comr.” signifying “friend, mate, companion, fellow member of a Communist society.” For a brief portion of the novel, Jan writes directly to Monsignor Rosin, a priest and historian of his hometown.

Edvin Kepka

Edvin Kepka, Jan’s father, nicknamed the Handsome by Jan. He is, as his nickname indicates, noted mostly for his good looks. He is the weaker, or at any rate the less socially ambitious, of the two sons of a drunkard, Edvin Kepka I. The younger Edvin is content to work in the shipping department of the Largior Chocolate Factory, but his older brother, Bonek, decides that he will run the entire operation.

Bonek Kepka

Bonek Kepka, Jan’s uncle, a greedy and strong-willed man. After he decides that he wants to run the chocolate factory, he sets out to achieve his goal, which he eventually does, though not without...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Jan Chrysostom Kepka has the freshness of perception of a child. Ironically, the older he gets, the more childlike he becomes. Jiri Grusa does not wholly identify with Jan, by any means. He hints that Jan is slowly going mad, no matter how rich and enticing Jan’s perceptions may be. The other side of Jan’s childlike vision is his emotional immaturity. After a very promising start, even amid the abysmal external conditions of the Nazi Occupation and the Soviet liberation, Jan begins to slide backward around the time that Czechoslovakia becomes Socialist. He only barely restrains himself from actually telling young Erna that he has become involved with her mother. After military service, he can find nothing more productive to do than breed cats—and not even successfully, since his “Ma Fille” turns out to be a “Mafius.” He carries on a long-distance flirtation with a female cat-owner in Germany, a relationship consummated in a comical and outrageous fantasy. His devotion to Alice continues in full force to the end. Yet his is not a true Oedipal complex, because there is no sense of rivalry between his father and himself. He views Edvin with a mixture of good-humored condescension and tenderness.

Alice is the most realistic, vibrant, and consistent character. She is spotlighted by Jan’s love but has enough personality to stand on her own: dry humor, courage, wholeness, stubborn patriotism, and a mouth “that says what must be said.” She is not described as beautiful, but her beauty is never in doubt. She is the bearer of “four-beam,” “equatorial” eyes, inherited from a well-hidden Jewish ancestor. She is thus the center of a complicated historical subplot which is also part of Jan’s life. Edvin and Olin, like Alice, are whole, harmonious characters with emotional integrity. They are touchstones of normalcy and natural goodness.

In the Czech tradition, Grusa is reluctant to strip humanity from characters who are simpleminded, immoral, or crude. His Russian liberators, hilarious in their crudity, are drawn with just enough naturalism so that they stop short of being caricatures. The despicable Uncle Bonek, a greedy collaborator with both Nazis and comrades, is given human motives and a human consciousness—although Grusa’s description of his macabre end is gleeful. Only the former hangman, Lieutenant Mikit, leaves the human realm.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Banerjee, Maria Nemcova. Review of Doktor Kokes Mistr Panny in World Literature Today. LIX (Spring, 1985), pp. 286-287.

Banerjee, Maria Nemcova. Review of The Questionnaire in World Literature Today. LVII (Spring, 1983), p. 314.

Grusa, Jiri. Franz Kafka of Prague, 1983.

Soete, George. Review in Library Journal. CVII (August, 1982), p. 1480.