Jaromir Hladik is a Jewish writer living in Prague. When the story opens, he's having a pretty crazy dream: he's playing an epic chess game, but he just can't remember the rules. He wakes up to the sound of the Nazi army marching into town – we're in 1939, folks.
Five days later, he's arrested, basically for being Jewish and voicing his Jewishly inclined opinions. His execution is scheduled to take place ten days later, on March 29, at 9 am, and so Jaromir has to wait. This is even worse than waiting at the In-N-Out drive-thru on a Saturday night.
Jaromir spends nine nights in prison anxiously imagining and re-imagining his death by firing squad. Great way to pass the time, huh? On the night before the execution, he recalls a play he was writing but never finished, called The Enemies. It's about a guy names Jaroslav Kubin who has gone crazy: Kubin thinks he's another dude and relives the same scene over and over.
Sounds strange, but Jaromir is proud of it, and he prays that God will grant him one more year to finish his play. Then he falls asleep. Commence another weird dream. This time, we're pretty sure he hears the voice of God saying "The time for your labor has been granted." Hmm.
Jaromir wakes up, and it's time for his execution. But just as the bullets are about to be fired, the universe stops. Yep, it just stops. Think Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell, but this time, no one can move, not even Jaromir.
After some major confusion, he realizes that God has granted him a "secret miracle": although no time is passing in the world around him, he has a year inside his head to work on finishing his play. Jaromir works by memory, and as soon as he completes the last line, he lets out a yell, the bullets hit him, and he falls to the ground: "Jaromir Hladik died on the twenty-ninth of March, at 9:02 A.M." (13).