Of Mice and Mooshaber (original Czech title Myi Natálie Moosbrové note ) is a novel by Ladislav Fuks written in 1970. It's an allegory of the evil set in dystopia, mixed with elements of horror and detective/mystery genre, fairy-tale motifs, absurd literature and existential Kafka-esque anxiety. The totalitarianism is mostly implied and very unsettling.
The story is set in a country that is not specified and only vaguely alluded to by names and background events. The state is controlled by a dictator Albin Rappelschlund who governs the country with support from Duchess Augusta. The civilization and technology of the country appear advanced — there is metro, satellite transmission and television broadcasting, and flights to the Moon are common; however, this grotesquely and bizarrely contrasts with things connected to distant past like child labour, horse-drawn wagons, rural-like inns in the capital city or State Office for suppressing and annihilating witchcraft.
The novel describes a life of widowed Mrs Mooshaber who lives in a small flat in half-ruined house where she has to constantly set mouse traps. She works as an activist of the ominous office Care of Child and makes extra money by looking after several graves in the city cemetery. She's frequently disturbed by visits of her her adult son Wezr and daughter Nabule and their fellow Bekenmoscht who steal from her and play cruel tricks on her. Mrs Mooshaber is frequently plagued by the police who constantly interrogate her about her youth which she barely remembers. Mrs Mooshaber's goal in life was to open a kiosk and sell lemonades and cakes. In the course of the novel, she is assigned several mysterious cases of three boys — Faber, Eichenkranz and Linpeck who roam and cause problems to their parents.
People are dissatisfied with Albin Rappelschlund's dictatorship and want to see their rightful ruler, Duchess Augusta. The official propaganda says she still rules together with Rappelschlund but she hasn't been seen in public for decades.
The novel was a first one by Fuks in which he abandoned Jewish themes and Czechoslovakia under Nazis oppression. This novel is lesser known than The Cremator but it is well-respected in literary and academic circles, and it's considered a modern classic of Czech and European literature. Translated into English in 2014.
Of Tropes and Mooshaber:
- 0% Approval Rating: Albin Rappelschlund who tries to form a cult of personality. Children have to learn by heart his biography and he's ascribed divine traits (he flew several times to the Moon and his blood was not affected, unlike other people). The novel ends with riots and revolution which ends his dictatorship.
- Adult Fear: In-universe. Linpeck's mother is absolutely terrified when Mrs Mooshaber, a person employed by the state agency Care of Child, appears in their home and says she was asked to investigate and make sure Linpeck won't roam any more.
- Dystopia: People fear everything and cannot trust one another. Most people are poor and have a hard life. This vision of society is certainly very bleak. The time or place is not defined which adds to its unsettling feel.
- Bitter Sweet Ending: Kind of, the hope for the society is there, but the ending feels more bitter than sweet, mostly because the book is disturbing and creepy. Duchess Augusta is asked to come back to her palace and she's recognized as the ruler of the country. She pardons several evil people who got death punishment. People now might hope for a better future, but Duchess Augusta poisons herself.
- Driven to Suicide: Mrs Mooshaber, also known as Duchess Augusta poisons herself. It's left rather vague why she did it, but she, an aristocrat with a rather sweet nature, was forced to lead a difficult and oppressed life as a poor woman and she probably couldn't bear the reversal.
- Fairy Tale Motifs: The country rightful monarch is Duchess Augusta. Several everyday objects like cakes are described in such terms that they easily gain symbolic meaning, like in fairy tales.
- Eye Scream: A boy Faber injured his eye and his mother claims he was climbing on scaffolding, but it's implied that he was hit by his parents. His mother keeps saying she will take him to an eye doctor who will burn it.
- Lit Fic: Czech students are supposed to know Fuks' works and it's usually a part if high school curricula, unless the teacher prefers another Fuks' novel.
- Red Herring: There are several plot points that appear important, but lead nowhere. For example, Mrs Mooshaber buys Linpeck a cake and the details imply that she's going to poison him. He appears in the next chapter and is all right.
- The Reveal: Mrs Mooshaber who lives as a poor widow in an ugly flat is actually Duchess Augusta, the rightful ruler of the country.
- Widow Woman: Mrs Mooshaber is a poor old woman, a widow of coachman with small income. She has to work two jobs and her jerkass children steal her money and her things. However, the grand finale of the book reveals that she's a widow of Duke and she is the rightful monarch of the country. However, they probably messed with her memory that she no longer knew who she was and couldn't trust even herself.