Author: Jií Gruša
First published: Dotazník, aneb modlitba za jedno mesto a prítele, 1978 (English translation, 1982)
Locale: Chlumec, a town in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia
Time: The onset of World War II through the early 1970's
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, 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, 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 difficulties. One particularly troublesome obstacle for Bonek is the color of his sister-in-law's eyes.
Alice Vachal Kepka, Jan's mother. Jan states that “Bonek mistrusted Alice's eyes, he suspected them of being Jewish.” Bonek's suspicion propels Jan into an extended explanation of his mother's “chrysoberyl” eyes, tracing them through various ancestors to the present day.
Olin Vlaciha (vlah-TSIH-hah), Jan's cousin. Olin is described by Jan as “the interpreter of dreams.” Olin fought the Germans in World War II as a member of the Czechoslovak legionnaires in Europe. He later serves time in a concentration camp for attempting to brew and sell his family's ancestral (pre-Communist) beer. Olin instructs Jan in astrology and advises him to continue painting and to stop sleeping with Mirena Klahn, advice that Jan follows.
Lieutenant Mikit, the officer for political affairs for Jan's unit. His most remarkable feature is the position of his eyes, which are so sunken that they are “practically gone.” He indirectly encourages Jan in his artistic career by allowing him to paint pictures instead of performing regular army duties. Mikit ultimately proves psychologically unstable, however, and is removed from his post.