A Brief History of Living Forever

A Novel


By Jaroslav Kalfar

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In this “ingenious, funny, and chilling” novel (Publishers Weekly, starred review) from the author of Spaceman of Bohemia, two long-lost siblings risk everything to save their mother from oblivion in an authoritarian near-future America obsessed with digital consciousness and eternal life—a story that “packs a walloping punch” (Esquire).

When Adéla discovers she has a terminal illness, she leaves behind her native Czech village for a chance at reuniting in America with Tereza, the daughter she gave up at birth, decades earlier. But the country Adéla experienced as a young woman, when she eloped with a filmmaker and starred in his cult sci-fi movie, has changed entirely. In 2030, America is ruled by an authoritarian government increasingly closed off to the rest of the world.

Tereza, the star researcher for VITA, a biotech company hellbent on discovering the key to immortality, is overjoyed to meet her mother, with whom she forms an instant, profound connection. But when their time together is cut short by shocking events, Tereza must uncover VITA’s alarming activity in the wastelands of what was once Florida, and persuade the Czech brother she’s never met to join her in this odds-defying adventure.      
Narrated from the beyond by Adéla’s restless spirit, A Brief History of Living Forever is a high-wire act of storytelling from a writer “booming with vitality and originality,” whose “voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks” (New York Times). By turns insightful, moving, and funny, the novel not only confirms Jaroslav Kalfař’s boundless powers of invention but also exults in the love between a mother and her daughter, which neither space nor time can sever.

“Kalfař is a wise, rapturous, and original writer . . . Eloquent, heart-stunning, and rich in awe-inspiring prose.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Relentlessly inventive . . . His writing has the same hyperactivity and fidgety contempt for generic boundaries as that of the young Safran Foer.” —The Guardian



ON A COLD morning in late November, I arrived at my physician’s office to discuss the results of my annual health exam. From the grim tone of the nurse who’d booked my visit and the dreams of abyss haunting me as of late, I knew to expect bad news, that the time had come at last to face the perilous consequences of my long years on Earth.

I came in early, hoping that old Dr. Škvoreček might see me before my appointment time so as not to risk being late for work. Alas, the room was already filled with a dozen patients, chattering about their aches and pains. Can u com in now?? my shift manager inquired in a text message as the nurse led me into the examination room one hour later. With no sense of urgency, Dr. Škvoreček poured me a cup of tea, leaned back in his chair, and revealed that an illness had taken root in my body. I was likely to die within a year, give or take a month. The doctor showered me with helpful leaflets on grief and offered to speak with my family to ease my burdens. A great poet of the macabre, Dr. Škvoreček described all the ways in which my body would devour itself—crumbling bones, renal failure, death by brain bleed or fungal infection—and I nodded with appreciation for his honesty as I watched the clock mark the beginning of my work hours.

Only as the doctor launched into a digression about the latest immortality research coming from America—as if suggesting I might be saved by some last-minute God pill—did I reclaim my time, thanking him for a life of service. Rumor had it that my workplace was planning to replace its employees with robots, I explained, and I’d vowed to become the perfect worker to show that I could compete with any machine. I took a polite sip of lukewarm tea, stuffed the leaflets into my purse, and rushed out of the office. The findings of my illness had come from tests mandated by insurance, invasive examinations I would’ve otherwise skipped. I felt no pain, no new sensations in my body aside from the mild nosebleeds. The abstract diagnosis of death lacked any physical urgency. My need for a paycheck, on the other hand, was concrete and immediate.

As I rushed out of the waiting room, the encouraging farewell of Dr. Škvoreček followed me out to the street: “Don’t trouble yourself, Ms. Slavíková! You’ve lived a beautiful life.”

MY NAME IS Adéla Slavíková. Join me on this usual path to work during the final winter of my mortal toil! An early, weeklong blizzard had taken our county hostage with a barrage of snow and hail, shutting down morning commutes, derailing trains, chilling the bones of the children and the old. I warmed my hands inside the pockets of my coat as I hastily shuffled my feet along the black slush covering the pavement of Louny, the northern Bohemian town to which I commuted for work.

My employer was Kaufland, a blockbuster chain of German hypermarkets. I had been a cashier for six years, hating the work but feeling content in knowing I could support myself, pay the bills, enjoy a few basic comforts until age left me dependent on retirement checks issued by a government grudgeful toward its “unproductive” senior populace. As with most jobs that require a name tag, mine also required a suspension of dignity. Shopping had become a religious experience in our country. Families would plan their weekends around trips to the hypermarkets, study the discount circulars for sales and coupons the same way scholars examine pillars of literature. I’d become a priestess of the hypermarket, a representative of the gods of consumption; when I dared to reject an expired coupon or declare items out of stock, my customers threatened me with lawsuits, violence, complete destruction of every facet of my “meaningless existence.” They felt that I stood between them and the deities in charge of their fates, deities that promised a life of ever-expanding abundance and convenience. If only the cashier did what she was told, eternal happiness would be possible for all.

I arrived at Kaufland and headed toward the locker room to put on my shirt and name tag. I stopped as I passed the checkout lines. My usual cash register, lucky number 12, had been transformed. All the old registers save two had been replaced overnight by tall thick slopes that resembled miniaturized airport towers, connected by running belts. Register 12 greeted the long line of customers with a voice provided by a world-famous footballer as the tower’s blinking red eye scanned the merchandise with a single flash of its lasers. Robotic claws inside the machine bagged the groceries. The footballer thanked the customers for their loyalty and wished them a productive day. The red eye didn’t expect them to gaze back, express gratitude. Its claws were at no risk of developing rheumatism or carpal tunnel.

Witnessing the machine’s work sickened me far more than the blood-and-guts diagnosis from Dr. Škvoreček. I counted as the next customer interacted with the machine. Twelve seconds, and the transaction was over. Such a pace was impossible to compete with. I continued into the locker room, unsure of what to do next. Marek, the manager, was already waiting to call me into his office. He closed the door, took a profound sip from his BELIEVE IN MAGIC coffee mug, and said I was fired. My job at register 12 had been taken by Register 12. Marek offered a small severance and a Kaufland fridge magnet as a token of appreciation for my years of service. Automation was the key to prosperity in our troubled Europe, he insisted with a bravado that suggested Kaufland’s prosperity should be the foremost moral concern of the century.

I had lived long enough not to take this dismissal personally, and yet I struggled to breathe. The shock was far worse than the mild inconvenience I’d felt at the doctor’s office. Marek offered me a glass of water, and I told him this was rather unfortunate timing, as I’d just received news of a terminal illness from my physician. Marek said he was very sorry to hear it, but putting the burden of my illness on him was emotional manipulation, gaslighting. His grandfather had passed away recently, and my talk of death renewed Marek’s traumas. Visibly shaken by the duress I had put him under, Marek quietly walked me out of the building and pressed into my hands a single piece of paper outlining my severance. Breathing the fresh air, I tried to convince myself this was for the best. Had it not been for Register 12’s coup, I would’ve spent my final days on Earth arguing over the price of ham.

Even the news of my impending death didn’t free me from the banality of schedules. I was trapped in Louny for the rest of the afternoon, as the train to my village of Hluboká didn’t come again until the evening. I wasn’t in the mood to waste money on a cab. Despite my shock, or maybe because of it, I decided to take advantage of my newfound freedom, to do something responsible citizens oughtn’t ever do: wander aimlessly. The end is coming; away with routines!

I headed to the winter market at the town center, the one place that was sure to bring me comfort. When I entered, it was teeming with Christmas shoppers browsing the goods, admiring the Christmas tree adorned with silver chains and blue lights. The smell of pine and hot rum made me salivate. The vendors offered ornaments, garlands, Advent calendars. I bought a cup of grog in which to dip my gingerbread, shaped like the star of Bethlehem. I had been raised without religion, but the kitsch of its symbols always appealed to me, especially in biscuit form.

I walked up to a water tank filled with carp whose heads and tails smacked at the surface and splashed at the laughing children. As steam rose from the water, I realized that next winter, these attractions would still be here—the same children, the same parents, the same one-eyed man pouring grog with unwashed hands—and yet I would be gone, and none of these strangers would know. They wouldn’t even miss me. I shook my head. Vanity. I wanted my death to mean something to everyone, to be mourned by the whole world at once, even as I found breaking-news stories about famous deaths absurd, puzzled by the authority of those who decided which deaths were a matter of public interest.

I scouted the water tanks for the carp specimen that looked the spunkiest. Some customers had the fish killed with a hammer to the head, while others took their catch alive to keep in the bathtub until Christmas Day. I hadn’t eaten the traditional Christmas carp, fried in beer batter and served with potato salad, since I was twelve years old. Back then, I’d named our Christmas fish Gandalf, for its wise eyes and unusually thick barbels, shaped like a wizard’s beard. But my father drank too much rum as he prepared to fillet Gandalf for dinner, and the killing turned into a two-hour ordeal as he chased the half-dead fish slipping and sliding all over the kitchen, its guts pouring from the knife wound in its side. I refused to have any part in my father’s barbarity and locked myself in my room.

The children around the tank seemed to have no such memories. They squealed and poked at the glittering fish scales. Policemen in balaclavas shouted at the children to settle down as they patrolled the market with semiautomatic rifles in hand. Above the market, a soft hum and blinking lights announced the hovering of surveillance drones. The terror level was set to red, permanently, with all Christmas markets in the country designated “soft targets.” The Russian regime had been recruiting the surviving mercenaries of its old wars to launch lone-wolf attacks on European cities. Unofficially, of course.

I was still learning not to panic at such changes, as I had never gotten used to how quickly the world progressed and regressed. In my lifetime I’d seen the resurgence of Russian aggression threatening my continent, an internet-fueled resurrection of global fascism, and the American Reclamation, each upheaval a catalyst for extremism. I’d contributed my years of caring and biting my fingernails and it would now be someone else’s turn to worry about the whims of geopolitics. I tried to focus on the things that were simple, lasting—the smell of grog, the sweet spice of gingerbread, the Czech holiday traditions that endured through the centuries.

I asked the fishmonger to choose the carp that splashed the most, fought the hardest against its fate. The man raised his hammer and I said no, I wanted the fish alive. He put the carp inside a webbed bag and handed it over. The fish flapped its tail inside the bag, smacked at my thigh. I turned to leave and whispered a bittersweet goodbye to the market. I began to plead with myself. Perhaps this wouldn’t be my last time here, despite my diagnosis. Dr. Škvoreček was seventy-six years old and refused to retire, he was becoming forgetful, and all of this could be a big misunderstanding. I tried to soothe the carp with pats on its flapping fins as I headed back to the train station to seek a bit of quiet. I waited for the train home, keeping my new friend alive by giving it baths in the station’s lavatory sink.

Shortly after sunset I returned to our house in Hluboká, the ancestral home built by my great-grandfather, sitting atop a hill that cut away from the main road where most of the other village properties stood. The walls had begun to split apart due to the brutal winters, most of the grass covering the front yard had been dead for years, the garden in which my father used to grow cucumbers and strawberries was now a battleground for weeds and moles. My son, Roman, hoped to restore the house someday, make it look new and formidable for the next generation. Though I doubted this would ever happen, given his past struggles, I was happy nonetheless that my child still believed in our family’s future.

I stepped into the dark, quiet hallway. My mother, Babi, was already asleep in her room. Roman was on his way to Austria, delivering goods in a refrigerated truck. The real implications of the day’s events began to sink in. Without work, I would no longer be able to contribute to the household. Roman and Babi would cover our bills with their wages and retirement checks, respectively, but with little to spare. I had officially become a burden to my family.

But the matter of finances wasn’t nearly as dire as the immediate question of how to share the news of my illness. Should I break my family’s hearts over dinner, with food half chewed in their mouths? Should I give them the leaflets from my purse, repeat the platitudes from my doctor? My dearest, my beloved, my fortuitous act of living has come to its end.

I stepped into my bedroom to change before putting the carp in the bathtub. The dark blue carpet that had been in my room since I was a child gave way like quicksand and let out a wet belch. I looked back into my bedroom for the source of a low-pitched whistle and found the radiator pipe leaking water in a steady stream. Every part of the room had been flooded in my absence.

I removed my shoes, walked to the radiator, and cut off the water supply. Still in my work clothes, I went into my bathroom to fill the tub and release the carp. At first the fish made no motion except for the pucker of its lips. But soon the carp rejoiced at the influx of life and began to swim back and forth, exploring its new home. I was glad to have a confidant sharing in this crisis with me. Within seconds the fish would forget any trauma it had undergone. As far as it was concerned, it had lived its entire life happily in this very bathtub. The blessings of beastly amnesia—though sometimes I wondered whether the memory of animals was the memory of nature, without limits, seeing and knowing all, in ways humans could never understand.

I stripped off my work clothes, relieved this was the last time I’d have to wear a uniform, and wrapped myself in layers of robes as the broken radiator hissed with a mischievous glee. The cold crept around my toes. This bedroom had been mine since I was a child. When I was young, I never expected I would be the kind of person to return to her parents’ house well into old age. I had been eager to explore the world, to run far from the place of my birth. But the Prague apartment where I’d raised Roman had become unaffordable decades ago, as city rents skyrocketed and the job market for people (women in particular) over the age of forty-five vanished. The country’s retirement system was mostly bankrupt, and I was told not to count on retirement checks to keep me afloat. The prime minister summarized the sentiment of the nation’s economy when he called upon the unemployed senior populace to fill the shortage of cashiers in small-town grocery stores. I answered the prime minister’s call, and through the years I taught myself to accept that within a world so competitive, so hostile, I oughtn’t feel ashamed for honest work and for sharing a home with my family. I had lived a minimalist, stoic life to rid myself of the pressure of expectation and material pleasures. But it seemed that no matter how small I made myself, there was still so much more our world could take away.

From the stash underneath my bed, I recovered a box of wine. I sat on my toilet and reached into the tub to touch the carp’s scales. I opened the box and drank directly out of the container. Rage. I hadn’t felt it in a long time. To be a stoic was to control one’s perceptions, and rage was the abdication of such control. Babi snored in the next room, and I wished I could ask her if she’d ever felt this brand of humiliation, which seemed to me a distinct feature of our time. My mother, who was a hundred and nine years old, had lived through every major event of the previous century following the Great War. A life of torrents and broken ideals, a country invaded and occupied and resold, its people laughing through the pain. And yet, having seen the many forms of terror that people unleashed on one another, she slept through the night unbothered. I had not inherited her good humor.

But sleep wasn’t what I needed anyway, as there was much to do. As soon as I’d received my diagnosis from the good doctor, I knew that I could no longer hide from the looming absence in my life. A mission I had put off for decades, a haunting from the past. Now I had no excuses left, nor could I tell myself I still had plenty of time, maybe I’d get to it next year… the final months of my life offered one last chance to travel to America and find my lost daughter.

ALTHOUGH I HAD surrendered Tereza to her adoptive family when she was but seven hours old, I’d kept close track of her since her high-school years, when her adoptive mother sent me links to her social media not long before she died. A concealed folder on my laptop became the chronicle of Tereza’s life. Hiding behind anonymous accounts, I had read through her early LiveJournal posts to learn about her teenage years. I downloaded the photos from her lectures at industry conferences, embraced the novelty of Facebook to cull pictures from her birthday parties. I learned to master the emerging technologies, to use search engines and social media, only so I could watch my lost daughter from afar.

Her Czech forename was the only thing I was able to give her; her parents graciously agreed to honor my wish that she keep it. Each time I typed the name into the search engine, I felt closer to her, as if that single act of naming had bound us forever. Tereza had gone on to work as a bioengineer for the VITA corporation, in pursuit of the company’s promise to prolong human life, cure entropic diseases, and, someday, make our species immortal. This sounded like a fairy tale—what kind of a maniac would want to live forever?—but as long as my daughter was happy and well paid in the booming permanence sector, I was content.

Knowing that Tereza was living a successful life and needed nothing from me soothed my yearning to know her. But whenever the night was particularly quiet and I had drunk too much wine, I fantasized about taking one last trip to the United States to reveal myself after a lifetime of absence. The idea of being absolved of my guilt was intoxicating, but the fantasy was never enough to overcome my fear of Tereza’s reaction. Perhaps she hated her anonymous birth mother, perhaps she thought I had given her up lightheartedly, out of selfishness. Staying away from Tereza meant I didn’t have to find out. But my visit with Dr. Škvoreček suggested I had to act immediately, against my fears, or abandon the idea of knowing Tereza for good. Her adoptive parents had passed away before she started college, and with me gone, she would soon become a true orphan.

Of course, following the Great Reclamation of the United States, the mission of finding my daughter would be even more difficult. During the American election in 2024, all but a few holdouts in the Republican Party had abandoned the tainted GOP to form a new political behemoth: the party of Reclamation. On the night of the successful coup, the new Reclamationist leader of the Senate—with the support of the first Reclamation president, a man responsible for the pandemic deaths of tens of thousands of his own citizens as the former governor of Florida—dedicated this revolution of conservatism to the brave patriots who had stormed the Capitol in January of 2021. Using the voting laws they themselves had passed in recent years, state officials of the old Republican Party certified the election results, thus granting instant legitimacy to an authoritarian takeover that had conjured its own legal standing in the country’s system.

Thousands of lawsuits were filed as every democratic watchdog in the world mobilized, as Europe and the United Nations threatened the United States with sanctions, as the police brutalized protesters in every major U.S. city from coast to coast. But this upheaval produced no change in the Reclamation Party’s hold on power. Nobody knew how to protect the archaic Constitution against sophisticated twenty-first-century deception. The country’s Supreme Court had long ago shown a disinclination to protect its country’s democracy, and its refusal to accept cases challenging the Reclamation was perfectly in line with its dismantling of abortion rights. Many people in the world had held a kind of reverence for the American brand of democracy, but now we saw that even the most celebrated systems on the planet were make-believe, a reflection of a consensus that no longer held. Russia’s medieval atrocities in Ukraine had destroyed the last hopes for stability anywhere, along with our collective belief in fairness, compromise, and the meaning of old alliances. During its first two years in power, the Reclamation Party was normalized by nativist Americans drunk on vengeance, and it went on to cement its power with narrow wins in the 2026 midterm elections and with the reelection of the Reclamationist incumbent president in 2028.

The first piece of the new government’s legislation had been the Reclamation Act, which closed the country’s borders to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and visitors, with the exception of tourists from a small number of allied countries. America can’t abide the influence of foreign agents on our native soil, proclaimed the Reclamation government on its YouTube channel. The time of the unscrupulous alien seeking our charity has come to an end. Though the measure was initially billed as temporary, it proved so popular with supporters that it became the permanent law of the land.

The looming disasters of America turned into a full-blown manic depression, unpredictable and volatile. Though my country had a limited visa agreement with the U.S. (our presidents were old business partners), based on the horror stories, I worried about how I’d be received in the Reclaimed America. I worried about the reaction to my accent, I worried about the militias, deputized by the government’s Homeland Deportation Force to patrol the streets for stray foreigners. I worried about disappearing, about ending up in a small room with no windows. I worried about finding myself in one of America’s growing work camps, spending my final days sewing cop uniforms. Finding my daughter would’ve been far easier if she’d lived in a stabler corner of the world.

Yet the impending finality of my existence seemed to diminish these dangers. On this cold night of a broken radiator, a happily splashing carp, and a jarring removal from the job market, the idea of finding my daughter ceased to be a capricious daydream and became an immediate obsession. I felt detached from all our antiquated ideas of personal responsibility. Or, to speak in clearer terms, I no longer gave a fuck. I felt free to do anything I liked, no longer beholden to the monthly process of paying bills, shopping the grocery sales, doing it all over again the following week, the routine of paycheck-to-paycheck that kept the kingdom of humans running in an orderly manner and discouraged us from delusions of grandeur.

Yes, I could do it. All of this courage, to resolve the unresolved, excavated itself after decades of fear. As I opened my second box of wine, my head began to ache, my vision became blurry, I no longer felt cold. I retrieved my laptop from the bedside table, returned to the toilet, and began to browse flights to New York. I felt heat in my chest, acid reflux announcing I was officially drunk.

“Do yourself a favor: Live fast, die young,” I slurred to the carp, and laughed so hard I slid off the toilet.

As I collected myself, the fish in the bathtub began to glow. Its scales turned the color of melting gold. The fish pursed its lips and started speaking in a deep, human voice. “Find your daughter, go, go now,” the carp said. “Idiot. Your destiny awaits in the New World.”

“A prophecy!” I screamed back at the carp, attempting to take it in my hands. But the slippery fish swam jovially to the opposite side of the tub. “Tell me what to do,” I said. “Tell me!”

But the carp refused to speak again; its scales ceased to glow. I poked at it, begged for more wisdom, but the carp simply watched me with its beady eyes, the frowning curve of its mouth opening and closing to breathe. Was the creature mocking me? Suddenly, I felt awfully alone, craved to get into bed with Babi like I did so many decades ago when I was a girl and the Russians had invaded our country and I dreamed only of tanks and strange men who spoke to me with smoke coming from their mouths. I left the carp and crawled to bed on my own, disappointed, exhausted from the day of terrible news. I ignored my chattering teeth and fell asleep, the second box of wine resting half empty in my hand.

In the morning I awoke to heavy footsteps announcing my son’s return from work. The slamming of the refrigerator door, the long pour of milk.

I dragged myself up from bed and splashed my face with water. The carp rested quietly in the tub, expressing no judgment about the previous night. I thanked the fish for understanding and went to greet my son. I tried my hardest to tell him the news of my diagnosis, to force out the words I’m dying, I’m sorry—but I couldn’t. Instead, I told Roman about the broken radiator.

He cursed quietly, asked if I was okay, why I had slept in the cold instead of taking the living-room couch.

I’d needed the comfort of my own bed, I said, because I’d been unceremoniously sacked. Roman put his hand on my shoulder, and I took advantage of this rare moment of tenderness. Without delay I told him I wanted to use my early retirement to go to America to find Tereza and convince her to come back and meet her family. It was to be my final journey across the ocean.

Roman drank his milk with great deliberation, taking the news in. My son was short and stout, his face marked by age though he was yet in his thirties, the kind of entropy accelerated by anger and disappointment. He moved slowly, he spoke slowly too, with ominous pauses between his words like craters on a battlefield, another salvo coming soon. He always knew better than I did. I expected harsh words about the dangers of Reclaimed America, his usual lecture about the safety of home. A plea to let old ghosts rest, our lives were difficult enough, the same arguments he raised whenever I spoke about Tereza. He’d considered his sister a distant threat, a destabilizing force that would destroy our family’s peace.

Instead, he put an arm around my shoulders. He sat down with me and booked the embassy appointment on his laptop within minutes. I was shocked at my son’s sudden flexibility to let me go overseas without protest. But as we read through the booklet of rules for embassy visitors, I realized why he seemed unbothered. He didn’t believe the Americans would allow me into the Reclaimed country at all. He viewed my trip as a harmless fantasy borne from an age-struck mind.



  • “Electric . . . Kalfař’s inventiveness rolls as if on wheels . . . He has a Kurt Vonnegut-like satirical touch . . . He also has an old-world melancholy, beneath the humor, that will put some readers in mind of writers like Mordecai Richler and Jerzy Kosinski . . . Jim Harrison, asked by The Paris Review if he had any advice for young writers, said: ‘Just start at Page 1 and write like a son of a bitch.’ This seems to be Kalfař’s method . . . A Brief History of Living Forever proposes that there’s only one thing worse than disintegrating. It’s being trapped in a mind you can never click off.”
     —New York Times
  • "Inventive and heartfelt, this dystopian take on the immigrant experience and the American Dream packs a walloping punch."—Esquire
  • “An ambitious novel . . . Kalfař’s vision of America that dominates the novel’s not-so-distant future is uncomfortably plausible . . . Chaos seems to be winning of late, and Kalfař is trying desperately to urge us to keep flying."—Washington Post
  • “Ambitious and exciting . . . Beautifully achieved . . . As was already clear from his genre-bending debut, Spaceman of Bohemia, Kalfař knows his way around a sentence. By turns aphoristic and lyrical, with touches of Don DeLillo, Kalfař’s prose contains plenty of stylish wisdom . . . Mixing fantasy, satire, horror, and metaphysics, A Brief History of Living Forever has many stories to tell. But the pulse animating each of them is the shock of sudden loss—of jobs, of loved ones, of a world you thought you knew. For all the jaunty quips or angry asides, the undertone is one of mourning . . . The delicacy of touch displayed here is reminiscent of the best of Milan Kundera."—The Telegraph (UK)
  • “A thoroughly original story from a writer to watch.”—Emily Firetong, Lit Hub
  • “Kalfař (Spaceman of Bohemia) imagines in his ingenious latest a near-future dystopia involving ghastly longevity experiments…. Kalfař draws many funny and chilling connections between Cold War era communist secret police and his imagined future fascist America… With a perceptive satirical slant, sharp humor, and convincing emotion, Kalfař builds a plausibly terrifying world.”—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
  • "With piercing insights into human nature and the way we live now, Kalfar paints a compelling and convincing
    portrait of a near future rife with dangerous nationalism and perilous technological advances."—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
  • “Enchanting and haunting . . . Kalfař displays an extremely current sense of history, and he has an eye for the simultaneously ludicrous and ominous nature of news.”—Locus Magazine
  • A Brief History of Living Forever is a book from the future, here to deliver an urgent story about the present. Extending the speculative logics of Kafka and working in the dreamlike, psychic registers of Philip K. Dick, Kalfař presents an entrancing, lucid, and incisive vision of immortality that starts and ends with the self. This is a brilliant, disorienting, and endlessly fascinating read.”—Tom Lin, author of The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu
  • "Kalfar, who moved to the United States from the Czech Republic when he was 15, incorporates both countries in this dystopian, techno-mystery story about life beyond physical death...Kalfar brings his characters to life with almost formal eloquence...he makes the potential power of technology and artificial intelligence a frightening prospect. Both scary science fiction and a bleak nightmare about the end of democracy."—Kirkus
  • "Jaroslav Kalfar turns an ambitious premise (a person whose body has expired but whose consciousness lives on) into a moving, frightening story about the strength of family bonds."—Michael Welch, Scientific American
  • Praise for Spaceman of Bohemia
  • "Kalfar has much larger aims with Spaceman of Bohemia than to write a spry, madcap work of speculative fiction . . . He has such a lively mind and so many ideas to explore . . . Kalfar has an exhilarating flair for imagery. He writes boisterously and mordantly . . . His voice is distinct enough to leave tread marks . . . A frenetically imaginative first effort, booming with vitality and originality."—Jennifer Senior, New York Times
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia gets heavy-but the story, like its protagonist, flies along weightlessly. A book like this lives and dies on the strength of its first-person voice, and in that regard, Kalfar triumphs. Jakub may be self-absorbed, but he's also charming, funny, and endearingly sympathetic."—Jason Heller, NPR
  • "In Jaroslav Kalfar's zany first novel . . . the spaceman, the alien, and all the rest of the book's extravagant conceptual furniture are merely metaphors for the human-scale issues that are its real concerns, in particular the collapse of Jakub's marriage to Lenka. That's not to say Kalfar hasn't done his research. There are lovingly detailed passages on the minutiae of life in zero gravity, but all the whizzy space business is harnessed to the basic question of what it means to leave and whether it's possible to come back. The alien acts as a Proustian trigger for Jakub's memories . . . But for all the strangeness of outer space, it is the writing about his home village, the place to which he longs to return and perhaps never can, that beats strongest in this wry, melancholy book."—Hari Kunzru, New York Times Book Review
  • The author skillfully splices a barbed picture of the Czech Republic between Jakub's misadventures in the cosmos. "These include floating free inside the dust cloud and hitching a ride on a clandestine Russian space shuttle. The book suggests that every national hero has a dark side, though you may have to leave Earth to see it."—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal "Best New Fiction"
  • "Outer space, inner turmoil, fierce ambition and the hunger for love - all seem to boldly go where no novelist has gone before in Jaroslav Kalfar's audaciously moving debut, Spaceman of Bohemia...Eloquent, heart-stunning and rich in awe-inspiring prose, Spaceman of Bohemia flirts with how we leave our mark on history. But its real mission is to unravel what makes us human - and that, according to this wise, rapturous and original novel, is a connection to others."—Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia represents the fiery, funny launch of an exciting new voice. Jaroslav Kalfar, like a good literary astronaut, finds levity in gravity, and vice versa."—Sam Lipsyte, New York Times bestselling author of The Ask
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia should win many fans. With its interplanetary shenanigans and lessons in Czech history, this zany satirical debut is bursting at the seams."—Tibor Fischer, Guardian UK
  • "A supercharged, voice-driven romp."
    Meredith Turits, Extra Crispy
  • "Blend Bradbury and Lem with Saint-Exupéry and perhaps a little Kafka, and you get this talky, pleasing first novel by Czech immigrant writer Kalfar....a book built on sly, decidedly contrarian humor. Blending subtle asides on Czech history, the Cold War, and today's wobbly democracy, Kalfar's confection is an inventive, well-paced exercise in speculative fiction. An entertaining, provocative addition to the spate of literary near-future novels that have lately hit the shelves."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia is an out-of-this-world look at all our beautiful smallnesses, from the cells of our biology to the bacterial minutiae of one broken heart. The roar of revolution and governmental injustice is cast against the depths of our emotions and the bottomless, grateful silence of the stars. Jaroslav Kalfar has spun an unforgettable tale, a poignant interplanetary work that collapses the distance between us with the beauty of its language and the unstoppable wonder of this universe he's created."
    Samantha Hunt, author of Mr. Splitfoot
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia is the best, most enjoyably heartbreaking, most fun book you'll read this year. On the surface, you'll see affinities with Gary Shteyngart, with The Martian, with Kelly Link. But Jaroslav Kalfar's voice is entirely his own. I beg you: take this strange, hilarious, profound, life-affirming trip into literary outer space."—Darin Strauss, National Book Critics Circle Award winner for Half a Life
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia is a wise and elegant work composed of its own unique ethereal grace-a hauntingly beautiful story of solitude, hope, family, and love that transcends, uplifts, carries the reader away."—Dinaw Mengestu, author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
  • "Spaceman of Bohemia is unforgettable: a work of breathtaking scope and heart, and a reflection of humanity that's raw and strange and profound and true."—Lisa McInerney, author of The Glorious Heresies, winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
  • "An exhilarating concoction of history, social commentary, and irony. Reading like Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 crossed with a Milan Kundera novel, set in a Philip K. Dick universe, with a nod to Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, it manages to be singularly compelling while still providing mass appeal. Highly recommended."—Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Kalfar's writing has the same hyperactivity, and fidgety contempt for generic boundaries, as that of the young Safran Foer.... Part space opera, part folk tale, his novel is also a love song to the city of Prague.... Funny, humane and oddly down-to-earth in ways that its scenario cannot possibly convey."
    Claire Armitstead, The Guardian

On Sale
Mar 28, 2023
Page Count
320 pages

Jaroslav Kalfar

About the Author

Jaroslav Kalfař, born in the Czech Republic, immigrated to the Unites States at the age of fifteen. He is the author of the critically acclaimed debut Spaceman of Bohemia, a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award that was translated into fifteen languages and is being made into a major motion picture starring Adam Sandler and two-time Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan. Kalfař holds an MFA from New York University and lives in Brooklyn.

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