"A work that examines mysteries of life in an astute, concise manner." ~ Kirkus Review
" ...a philosophical novel about learning lessons over a lifetime.
In the 1980s, Czechoslovakia's military service was required for men over the age of eighteen and spending two years in the austere training ground, known as a "kasarne", wasn't seen as an enviable situation. The young men, usually aged between nineteen and twenty-two, "felt deprived of their youth, deprived of chatting with girls, deprived of having the fun that an ordinary free life would otherwise offer to them."
Jirka and Jozef meet in a kasarne, and they form a bond as Jozef aids Jirka in writing love letters to his sweetheart, Margareta. However, the men's relationship is marked by jealousy. Who, after all, is the one truly winning over Margareta? Then, after a brief discussion of Einstein and the theory of relativity, the narrative shifts to detailing the life of a man named Julo, who's born in Czechoslovakia in 1961. But before much is revealed about him, readers find out that he ended up jumping to his death from a kitchen window. The question then becomes "Why? Why did he jump?" As the narrative details Julo's story, including such events as considering the purchase of a Škoda 105 automobile, serving his military requirement (during which he meets Jirka and Jozef), and mastering autogenous training relaxation techniques, readers know it's all destined to end in tragedy.
Although one may ascertain from the book's title that things will get dreamy, Toth instead keeps the plot developments grounded in the real world. It all culminates in a work that's realistic and contemplative, incorporating both love and tragedy while mingling youthful advice (such as the sentiment that a boy shouldn't "run to catch bus or after a girl ...[I]n fifteen minutes another comes") with more abstract concepts (such as when Jirka wonders if the human brain has its own event horizon). Although some readers may not be won over by the characters' contemplation, those who take an interest in Julo's experiences will likely want to see how they all come together-or, more accurately, given the character's suicide, how it all falls apart" (Kirkus review).
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Read an Excerpt
Put the Sky Inside of You
By Milos Toth
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Milos Toth
All rights reserved.
Love is behind that jump
In the year of 413 BC there was a request by Socrates to gather all the famous philosophers of that time in Athens, Greece to dine and discuss the question: "What is Love?" The request was sent by human courier since there were no computers at that time and not even a postal mail service. In the request Socrates wrote: "Dear fellow philosophers, please attend the dinner which will be held at my residence in Athens on September 28. After eating and drinking we will discuss one of the most puzzling human feelings: Love. I can't figure out on my own what love is, why human beings possess such a feeling and what kind of spark ignites the love. I hope that if all of us — the smartest people on the earth — put our heads together we come up with the answer."
The day of the gathering was a Saturday. Some philosophers took several days to get to Athens. Some of them travelled on horses, some on mules, some walked. After they ate dinner, drank wine they started to debate. One would think that Socrates would come up with the greatest idea and explain to everybody else What Love is. But it was Aristophanes who came with the most interesting explanation: "In the beginning of time people did not exist in single bodies as we do now but, rather, were pairs joined at the shoulders. There were three types of pairs: male-female, male-male, and female-female. These twin-type creatures tumbled around all day, carefree and, of course, never lonely. Zeus, father of Gods and men, like the twin-type people; however, one day, (nobody knows why) twin-type people offended Zeus so much that Zeus cut them in half as a punishment. Afterward, they walked around lonely, searching endlessly for their other half. And so it is to this day that human beings wander through life looking for the person who will complete them, for in our true and original nature, we were not one but two." Aristophanes finished his input to the debate. The other philosophers listened calmly and nodded with agreement ...CHAPTER 2
Mandatory army serving time
Czechoslovakia was a socialist country back in the 1980s. There was a mandatory requirement for all male adults aged 18 and older to serve in an army for two years. Two years locked in the camp called a 'kasarne'. Kasarne: a military training ground with a set of buildings surrounded by a big concrete-panel fence so the soldiers could not escape. Some young fellows figured out how to avoid the two-year service. They simulated some illness, or bribed an army bureaucrat who then signed a special type of document excusing them from the two years of a military service.
Jozef had to serve for just one year because young men who finished University didn't have to serve for two years; they had to serve for one year only. During the last two years of their five years of graduate studies they had mandatory army classes one day of every week, which then was counted as one year towards their mandatory military service.
The boys aged 19, 20, 21, 22 (rarely older) were locked in the kasarne. Most of them felt deprived of their youth, deprived of chatting with girls, deprived of having the fun that an ordinary free life would otherwise offer to them. They could go out of the kasarne to the town in which they were serving their "two year sentences" once or twice a week for couple of hours. They were also allowed once or twice in a year to go to their home-town (which was usually far away) for just a couple of days. When they were out of the kasarne in public they still had to wear army uniforms so everybody could recognize them. Girls in the town quite often avoided the young soldiers. They kind of knew that the guys were missing something and the guys would most likely make trouble for them.
Jozef enjoyed one year of the serving in the military. He had been assigned to check the airplane jet fighters before the fighter flew its missions. His kasarne was located in the Czech town of Hradec Kralove (around 150 km east of Prague). During his free time — when Jozef was not checking the jet fighters or participating in flying missions — he either worked out, played ping-pong or chess, read books, cut the hair of other soldiers or wrote letters.
There were nine soldiers, including Jozef, sharing one room. They considered themselves to be the lucky ones. In other rooms there were 20-30 beds for the same number of soldiers. One of the other nine-member room crew was Jirka, born and raised in Prague. Jirka noticed that Jozef was often writing something. He also noticed that when Jozef was writing he used carbon paper to retain copies of his writing.
One day Jirka asked, "Jozef, would you write a letter for me?"
"What kind of letter you want me to write Jirko?" Jozef used Jirka's name variation.
"You know," Jirka said, "I like one girl very much. I am thinking to write her something. I don't know what. I have never written a letter to a girl."
Jozef looked up at Jirka; Jirka was smiling.
"So you want me to write something for her?" asked Jozef.
"Yes," Jirka replied, "would you do that?"
"Piece of cake, Jirka. Describe to me the girl you are talking about, so I have some kind of idea what to write ... you know what Jirka? You don't have to tell me anything about that girl, let me write something; then I will let your read it and you tell me whether you like it or not, and if you like it you can send that letter to her."
Jirka nodded in agreement, grinning.
Jozef started to write:
Dear young lady,
The first time I saw you sitting on the steps in Vaclav Square next to the statue of King Vaclav sitting on a horse, a thought came through my mind: 'that girl is so beautiful. She sits so gracefully. I have to do something ... I don't what, but I will figure it out'. That was the thought when I first saw you. Then later on I knew exactly what I would do. I am going to write letters to you and in those letters I am going to reveal my feelings. I don't care whether you like what I am writing or not. For me the most important thing at this very moment is letting you know that you are on my mind. Please don't blame me for writing those words to you, blame nature, yes blame nature that made you so beautiful. I am just a messenger who delivers the message to you. Even if you kill the messenger, the fact is undisputable: you are beautiful, you are lovely, and you are admirable. Unfortunately I can't sing, but if I could I would be singing Luis Armstrong song "What a Wonderful World". I can't sing but I am singing it anyway "I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world ... Lalalalalalaaaaaaaa." I hope you can see what your beauty has done to me ...
Dear young lady, please let me know whether I shall continue writing to you or whether you prefer me to stop it at this moment. Please write a reply and send the letter to 'vojin Jirka, kasarne Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.
Your admirer Jirka
"Jirko, come here, read. Tell me what you think about this."
Jirka read the letter, smiled and said, "that is good. She would like that. I bet she would. Hmm ..."
"What hmm, is there something that you don't like?" Jozef asked Jirka.
"Yeah," Jirka said, "the ending of the letter. What if she chooses not to continue?"
"Well, you would have to accept that!" Jozef said to Jirka.
"I don't like that." Jirka said.
Jozef was not sure whether Jirka sent the full version of a letter or whether he made some changes.
After a week Jirka came to Jozef with wide smile on his face.
"Jozef, look what I've got." he said waving a white envelope.
"What is that?" Jozef kind of knew what he had, "a reply letter from your sweetheart?"
"Yes, it is," Jirka's round face was all sparkling, smile from one ear to another, "do you want to open it and read?"
"Jirko, the recipient address on the letter says your name, you should open and read it!"
"You wrote a letter to her, you should read it as well". So Jirka opened and read loudly:
I came home today and what a surprise: "a letter for me!" Who is this letter from? It is from Jirka! Jirko, we have met two times so far and you are writing a letter to me! It is so nice of you and your letter has been written so nicely. I wish you were next to me and could whisper to my ear the words that you wrote for me. I wish my mother would be nicer.
She saw the letter and did not like that. She doesn't want me to date you! She is telling me that I am too young for you. Seventeen is not too young! I think she is against me dating any boy. She would say that each boy wants the same thing: to get a girl to the bed only. She tells me that I must be careful, that I must not trust you. I asked my mom whether is it OK if I kiss you only, nothing else. My mom allowed me only a very short kiss, lasting not longer than two seconds. Jirko, I can't wait until you get home from Hradec Kralove. I will give you a dozen two-second kisses.
And yes, you can write to me again and please write as much as you can.
Jirko stopped reading and looked at Jozef with a very happy face. Jozef was little bit envious (he wrote the letter and she replied to Jirka!) still at the same time Jozef was happy for Jirka.
"Jozef, what should I write now? You have to help me. I don't know what I should write?!"
"Jirko, you should write! I don't know the girl ..." Jozef reacted.
"You have to help me; you wouldn't do that to me. You started, you have to continue ..."
"OK, ok, what is your objective? What you would like to achieve?"
"What? I don't understand. You sound like a high school teacher. What are you talking about?"
"What is your plan? What you would like to do with Margareta?"
"I want her to come here, to Hradec Kralove, and I want to have sex with her."
"Hahahahaah Jirko, don't be a red neck! Yes, you can say that to me but please don't write that to her. You have to play a game; otherwise you would just confirm what her mom said in the letter."
"Whose mom? Do you know her mom? What game are you talking about?" Jirka was confused.
"No, I don't know her mom. You just read the letter; didn't you notice that she mentioned her mom? And you are saying you don't know what game you need to play?"
"She wrote that she would kiss me." again a wide smile on Jirko's face, "no, I don't know what game you talking about."
"Play a game, you know like you try to impress her, the game that every soul is playing when consciously or unconsciously that soul is revealing its attraction to its other half; the half that every soul is constantly searching for. The soul doesn't have to be just a human being. There are plenty examples from nature too. Have you ever observed a rooster and a hen? The rooster chooses a hen and runs after her; the hen runs too, but only for a few seconds. Then the hen stops, kneels down a little bit, the rooster hops on the hen and they mate." Jozef said earnestly, his big brown soulful eyes intense.
"Ha ha haa ha, that is funny, no I have never observed that ..."
"There is also a game between lions. When a lion wants to mate, the male lion has to follow his chosen female lion for several weeks, if not months. I saw a movie on the National Geographic channel about their mating. Only after several weeks of a male lion following a female lion would that female lion let the male mate with her."
"Hahaha, is that so? The male lion follows the female for such a long time, he must be stupid. What if a male lion is following a female lion for several weeks or months, as you are saying, and she will still not let him mate? Isn't the rooster game a better option? And a rooster has lots of chickens that he can start chasing and he is rewarded after just several seconds of running. I want to play the rooster game!"
Jozef laughed loudly. "It's not only what you would like to play, you have to get the female who will agree to play that particular game. Hey, please don't tell Margareta: "Let's play rooster-hen game ..."
They were both laughing now.
Jozef then added, "I didn't think about that awful option that a male lion might face. You know what I once did? I counted exactly how long the rooster-hen game takes. A rooster starts chasing a hen. A rooster might think this is a nice chick I am going to get her and starts running after that particular chick. A chick might think: ha, you think you would get me so easily, no, no, no, run if you want something and you better run fast and she starts running away. I am observing and counting: 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 the rooster catches the hen and he hops on her: 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 the rooster is done, jumps down from a hen, he stretches, his head is up, his wings spread out and a loud sound comes out of his throat: cock-a-doodle-doooooo. ... So I am thinking the game is over, they play their game as it is written in their genes; what a nice reward I guess, why otherwise would a rooster would announce loudly his good feeling and why a hen, after finishing the mating extravagance, would be so happily continuing her daily routine."
"Ha ha ha, you are so funny. So their game lasted about 10 seconds only?" Jirka asked.
"Yeah, 10 seconds. I would say that since the lion's game is longer it might hide bigger fun. A lion has to follow a female lion carefully, so she will not refuse him and run away forever. I don't think that in the rooster-hen game that rooster would not ever catch his hen. I have never observed the lion's game in real life so I can't tell for sure. I would think it is probable that a male lion doesn't always get his female sweetheart. I guess if there is another male lion interested in that particular beautiful female lion, the male lion has to scare and chase his rival away from her, otherwise he would lose her. I guess when lions finally mate it takes much longer than the four seconds rooster gets for his mating. So what would be more enjoyable? Hahaha, you tell me ..."
"Give me a break! I am not into that philosophy. So are you going to write something or not?"
"Give me a pen and piece of paper please ..."
Jozef took a pen that Jirka had ready for him and started to write:
The sun was shining more brightly today and I know why. I received a letter from you. I was so happy to see that envelope.
I read your letter several times and always felt happiness inside of me. Yes, a dozen two-second kisses are all I would like to get. I would enjoy each of them very much. I can imagine how your lips would taste. I think they would taste as chocolate-covered strawberries ... I want to write also about something else. I think I know why I like to look into your eyes. I remember you asked me 'what?' when I looked into them. I should have replied that I see sky in your eyes and when I ask you "how do you do?" your answer with head lightly confirming your answer: "I am OK" made me puzzled ...
Jirka watched over Jozef's shoulders, his dark brown hair flopping over his forehead.
"What are you writing? I never told her "how do you do." I don't remember looking into her eyes. Chocolate-covered strawberries?? Ha ha ha. I have to laugh; can't you come up with something else?"
"Something else?! You write it if you are so smart! When I write I am writing to a real person, or better say, to a person that exists is my imagination."
"So you are saying that you are writing to somebody else? So you are not really writing to Margareta? To whom then are you writing? You are cheating!"
"I am saying that I have to imagine somebody real when I am writing and I have to feel that this particular person likes what I am writing. Yes, you might consider this as cheating. You can write your own ideas if you prefer! You asked me to write, so I am writing! You want to be truthful? Hahaha. 'The truth is a lie, but it has a hint in it' read Levi's book that Julo has on his bed; that sentence is right there. You agree that there is hint in my writing and any girl might like that writing, not only my imaginary one. Have you heard what Nietzsche said about the truth? The only truth is the lived truth!"
"You are talking too much. Don't be so upset; write whatever you want to write so I can send it to Margareta ..." Jirka mumbled under his breath.
So Jozef did. Jirka then sent the second letter to Margareta and they were both counting the days. Mail from Hradec Kralove to Prague takes about 2-3 days. So today was Monday. She should get this letter Thursday or Friday. If she wrote an answer the same or the next day then they should receive something from her by the end of next week.
Jirka couldn't wait for next week to come. He was really looking forward to getting a reply from Margareta. Whenever they had free time — usually later afternoon or in the evening — he wanted to talk to Jozef.
"Jozef, do you think she will reply? Do you think she will write something back? What if she finds another boy more attractive? Or if she simply would rather not bother to write an answer? Girls do that. Don't they? They have a boyfriend, a big love. Then he must go for this two-year stupid nonsense: 'serving your country' prison, and what does she do? She goes with the first boy that she meets at a disco-party. Do you think Margareta is different? Do you think that she will wait until I get back home?"
Jozef smiled at him.
"You are in love with her aren't you? Or are you just lonely and would like to communicate your feelings with somebody?"
Excerpted from Put the Sky Inside of You by Milos Toth. Copyright © 2016 Milos Toth. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Love is behind that jump, 1,
Chapter 2: Mandatory army serving time, 2,
Chapter 3: 59 passing moments of Julo's life (1961-2009), 24,
Chapter 4: Put the Sky Inside of You, 87,
About the Author, 113,