Great Translations: No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima

Jim Fonseca
3 min readJul 30, 2022
Prague street scene from

Life is tough. Here is a woman, a struggling dentist, divorced and a single mom. She blames herself for the dissolution of her marriage, even though her ex-husband cheated on her. Now her ex- is dying from cancer and she still feels responsible to go to his flat and care for him.

Some spoilers follow.

The Story: Her father has recently died and she is helping her mother through that crisis. She learns she has a half-brother, the result of her tyrannical father’s philandering, and this half-brother is sending her threatening letters.

As if that is not enough to deal with, her teen-aged daughter is on drugs. At first it was just a suspicion and then came the full-blown lying and stealing and now the daughter’s headed for re-hab.

While all this is going on, our heroine has a much younger man interested in her. But she can’t let the relationship develop because she can’t get past worrying about when he will leave her. She is good at self-sabotage.

If you see issues you’re dealing with in this review, you might want to read this book. In part it’s a practical manual about dealing with a kid on drugs. There is always hope.

The Setting: It’s set in Prague around the time of the book’s first publication, 1999. Translated from Czech by Gerald Turner, the books holds political themes as well: both her ex-husband and her new lover work in archives supposedly dedicated to uncovering informers in the country’s communist past. Her own grandmother died in a German concentration camp.

The Writing: It’s powerful, attention-grabbing and well-written. This passage on her weariness illustrates the tone of this book:

“It was as if all the burdens I’d ever borne, all the disappointments I’d suffered, all the wine I’d ever drunk, all the cigarettes I’d ever smoked and all the sleepless nights all fused together.”

Ratings: On a scale of 5, I rated the book a 4. Goodreads rates it 3.7 and Amazon has it at 4.8 (although the last is based on only 8 ratings).

Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.