Translations of Josef Skvorecky
by Paul Wilson
on a title below to view covers, summaries and full bibliographical
R epublic of Whores, Josef Skvorecky. Knopf Canada, Toronto.
a time not long ago, on an army base in rural Czechoslovakia,
the draftees of the Seventh Tank Battalion gird themselves
fro the inevitable war with America
them is Tank Commander Danny Smiricky, torn between two irresistible
women, and dreaming of his approaching release from army life
- a release directly threatened by his boisterous and hilariously
independent minded tank crew. But the greatest danger to Danny
is his politically correct major, a tiny termagant known as
the Pygmy Devil. The major will sell his soul for Soviet accolades.
The troop, on the other hand, will do everything possible
to undermine their Soviet loving officers. And on the eve
of Danny's discharge, disaster looms
This is life in the People's Democratic Army at its most insane,
bawdy and raw.
It's a romp through the idiocies that prevailed under Stalinist
communism - and that bred both fear and nonsense. Behind the
comedy of this exuberantly lustful tale lies a savage parody
of life under the Soviet boot. But clearly, despite all the
rules and regulations of oppression, the human spirit has
a way of triumphing.
by the Czech censors, The Republic of Whores was not
published in Czechoslovakia until 1989, after the fall of
Communism. The novel was first published in France in 1969,
and in the original Czech in 1971 by 68 Publishers, Toronto.
Republic of Whores at Amazon.com
Miracle Game, Josef Skvorecky. Lester & Orpen Dennys,
Toronto; Knopf USA; Faber & Faber, London. (1991)
a small chapel in the Bohemian countryside, a statue of Saint
Joseph bows in blessing. The priest and congregation celebrate
this miracle with triumphant joy, but Danny Smiricky-who has
been dragged to church by one of his students to atone for
some delicious mutual sinning-is troubled by the phenomenon,
and haunted by the tragedy that follows. Not until after another
"miracle" almost 20 years later-the Prague Spring
of 1968-does he sort out the tangled threads of this disputed
act of God.
Miracle Game sets the hilarious tale of Danny's early
life-with his hapless romantic entanglements and his endless
narrow escapes-against the dark ironies of the Prague Spring
and the Russian invasion that crushed it. We meet school principal
Ivana, a Houdini of Communist ideology who can always find
an out; beautiful, ice-hearted Laura, for whom politically
correct ends justify any means at all; jovial Ponykl, whose
mulish obtuseness makes him an invaluable servant of the regime;
First Secretary Dubcek, whose over-ambitious reforms lead
to catastrophe; Hejl, the incurably optimistic world-class
playwright whose political idealism remains unsullied; and
of course the green-eyed Vixi, entrancing and exasperating
femme fatale of Hronov girls' school
magnificent black comedy on eternal themes.
Return of Lt. Boruvka, Josef Skvorecky. Lester & Orpen
Dennys, Toronto; Norton, New York; Faber & Faber,
his last appearance-The End of Lieutenant Boruvka-the
pudgy, mournful police detective had finally rebelled against
the perverted 'justice' of Russian-occupied Czechoslovakia-and
his courageous revolt had landed him in prison. But now a
daring escape plan has whisked him to Toronto, where his daughter
works for a feminist detective agency. And when a young woman
is murdered-perhaps in a simple crime of passion, perhaps
in a tangled spy cover-up-the doleful detective lends his
years of experience to the neophyte Canadians on the case.
course, murder is familiar ground for Boruvka, a man whose
worst suspicions about human nature are invariably fulfilled.
But Canadians prove to be a mystery that defies solution.
The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka, Josef Skvorecky offers
us not only a sly and devious murder mystery, but also a comic
confrontation of the Old World and the New that pokes fun
at both sides of the cultural divide.
in Love, Josef Skvorecky. Lester & Orpen Dennys, Toronto;
Chatto & Windus, London. Knopf USA. (1986)
the winner of the 1984 Governor General's Award, the master
of "that modern specialty, the heartbreaking bellylaugh"
(Time)-a wonderfully imagined novel about Anton Dvorak's
love affair with America, with music, and with the Bohemian
and many-faceted, Dvorak in Love evokes the life of
a great musician, and a nearly forgotten piece of European
and American history. At the height of his prodigious powers,
in 1893, Anton Dvorak was persuaded to leave his native Bohemia
to come to New York to be Director of the National Conservatory
of Music. Out of this brief biographical footnote, Skvorecky
has fashioned a brilliant tale: the story of the composer's
lifelong love for his sister-in-law Josephine; his passion
for America' and his championship of black musicians. Surrounding
Dvorak is an unforgettably rich cast of characters-many of
whom made their own mark on history.
hear the voices of singer Sisteretta Jones, and Harry T. Burleigh-composer
of many famous Negro songs of the day-discovered by Dvorak
while working as a janitor at the conservatory
of Dvorak's lovely fourteen year old daughter Otylia, who
elopes with her father's American secretary
sharp tongued wife, Anna
and the voice of Josephine,
Anna's lovely, fragile sister whom Dvorak loved passionately
until her tragic death. Through their voices and their eyes
we experience the New World at the turn of the century, brought
vibrantly to life by Skvorecky. This is a tragicomedy imbued
with music and artistry and wonderful brio.
Engineer of Human Souls, Josef Skvorecky. Lester &
Orpen Dennys, Toronto; Knopf USA. (1984) Winner of the Governor
General's Award for fiction, 1984.
Engineer of Human Souls is a powerfully resonant epic
novel. It bridges the Old World and the New - and it ranges
in time from 1939 to the present, from the shadows of Nazi
Europe to the deceptive calm of a Canadian campus.
Smiricky is a Czech writer who fled his country in 1968 to
find asylum in the sheltered world of Edenvale College in
Toronto. His New World is an Eden which he sees with Old World
eyes: he is touched and exasperated by its political innocence,
wryly amused by the hilarious counter-revolutionary schemes
of his fellow émigrés, tormented by the Soviet
secret agents who dog his footsteps, and he succumbs to the
determined flirtations of his prettiest student. At the same
time he is undone by memories
of a homeland as lost to
him as his youth
of Nadia, the factory girl who was his
co-saboteur and, to his astonished delight, his first lover
his career as girl-chaser and feckless hero of the Resistance
in a small Bohemian village under the pall of the Nazi occupation,
and later under Stalin
of a world of heroes, traitors
and innocents. This montage of past and present is at once
Danny's story and the whole sorrowful history of East and
West since the war-beautifully told in a wise, funny, bawdy,
Engineer of Human Souls
Swell Season, Josef Skvorecky. Lester & Orpen Dennys,
Skvorecky's The Bass Saxophone was hailed as poignant,
satirical, funny," (The Toronto Star) and "the
finest fiction ever written about jazz," (The Village
Voice); it was named Editor's Choice by the New York
Times Book Review and Book of the year by The Guardian.
in the six tales of The Swell Season, Skvorecky traces
the libidinous ardors of young Danny, a teenager growing up
in the forties. Danny boasts of his conquests with fine bravado,
and longs to turn his fantasies into reality; but no matter
how smoothly he woos, it seems he is always to be foiled.
Golden haired Marie, brown-eyed Irena, bewitching Karla-Marie,--Danny
is rejected by them all. Fortunately his elusive love life
is balanced by his friendship with "the guys", who
share his physical yearnings and-perhaps more important-his
consuming passion for jazz.
Swell Season at
are wonderful tales, full of wry humour and unexpected plot
twists, and they add up to a fond portrait of a seemingly
more innocent era. But this is more than entertaining nostalgia-for
Danny's home is in wartime Czechoslovakia, and his fragile
world of adolescent schemes exists under the shadow of the
ruthless Nazi presence.