cover image Parasol Against the Axe

Parasol Against the Axe

Helen Oyeyemi. Riverhead, $28 (278p) ISBN 978-0-593-19236-8

The bold, lucid, and experimental latest from Oyeyemi (Peaces) portrays Prague as a city of dreams and mysteries. The writer Hero Tojosoa, who publishes under the pen name Dorothea Gilman, accepts a last-minute invitation to a bachelorette party in Czechia hosted by two frenemies. She brings with her a copy of Paradoxical Undressing, a novel by mysterious Australian author Merlin Mwenda, which provides a different narrative each time it’s opened (Hero’s copy shifts overnight from a story of a love triangle in the court of King Rudolf III to one of a dyspeptic judge hoping to frame his own son for crimes against the Communist Party). Also in Prague is the real Dorothea Gilman, who has an axe to grind with Hero for using her name. Dorothea winds up with her own copy of Paradoxical Undressing, one that’s set in 1943 and concerns the perilous adventures of a dancer hoping to subvert the Nazi Protectorate from within. By the time Dorothea loses her copy of the Mwenda and tracks down a new one in a bookshop, the novel has changed into a madcap farce about rogue hairdresser Ataraxia “the Uglifier” Pham, who terrorized 2016 Prague by giving clients terrible hairdos. Bizarre doublings and subplots abound as Oyeyemi delightfully channels a Borgesian literary lunacy, revealing the connections between Hero and Dorothea and introducing the real Merlin Mwenda (now working as, of all things, an ersatz ice cream vendor). This is a metatextual masterpiece. (Mar.)