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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

An extract from the Koran that serves as prologue to the story hints at the miracle of the title. It tells of a person whom God has made die over the course of a hundred years. To this person, the time that has passed has been “a day, or part of a day.”

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The story itself begins on the night of March 14, 1939, in an apartment in Prague. It is the home of Jaromir Hladik, an author, whose principal works include an unfinished play and two scholarly volumes, one entitled Vindication of Eternity, the other a study of Jewish sources of the seventeenth century Christian mystic Jakob Boehme.

Hladik dreams of a centuries-long chess game whose opponents are two prominent families and whose forgotten prize is rumored to be infinite. The chessboard itself is set up in a secret tower. In his dream, Hladik is the first-born son of one of the families, and as he runs to make the next move, he realizes that he cannot remember the rules of the game. At this point, Hladik awakes to the sound of Nazi soldiers marching down his street.

Five days later, Hladik is arrested because of his Jewish blood and his inquiries into Jewish sources. Julius Rothe, the Nazi official who must decide Hladik’s fate, is convinced of Hladik’s importance from a catalogue listing. This listing was prepared by the publisher of Hladik’s translation of the Sepher Yezirah, an early work of Jewish mysticism. Ignorant of the world of scholarship, and oblivious to the publisher’s exaggeration of Hladik’s reputation, Rothe condemns Hladik to death.

In prison, Hladik imagines all the possible details of his execution. On the night before he is to face a firing squad, he is distracted from his imaginings by the thought of his play, The Enemies. Anxious to redeem himself from his unsatisfactory literary career with this play, he asks God to grant him a year to complete it.

Just before dawn, Hladik dreams that he is hiding in a library. To the librarian’s question regarding what he seeks, Hladik replies that he seeks God. The...

(The entire section contains 555 words.)

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