Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The black comedy and the sadness of life under the Nazis are evoked by kvorecký’s quasi-surreal satire. Although there is a sense of dream that surrounds and permeates the novella, at its center there is an all-too-human destiny of restless flight. It is no small irony that the young narrator is on the “lee-shore of a land-locked lea in Europe,” while feeling, at heart, forever one with American jazz-musicians, or wandering, in his mind and soul, with Kinze’s orchestra across the war-torn countryside.

Jazz is forbidden music to Aryans, but this very stigma makes it especially attractive to all who resist state controls over life and art. Its wild jungle rhythms and sounds put it squarely outside the regulated, regimented way of life promoted by the Nazis, and so it becomes particularly seductive to the young narrator, who wants never to renounce his right to dream in music. The absurd Spike Jones look of Kinze’s orchestra is a grotesque reminder of the hell of oppression. The assorted physical handicaps of its members are emblems of the cruel sufferings created by war. The anxiety and fear at the center of many of the players’ lives reveal the resulting collapse of optimism.

Yet, although the novella is occasionally like a vision in one of Brueghel’s disturbing paintings, it resounds with the idea of fidelity to real art. There is a schizophrenia in the narrator—especially as he disguises himself as a German to play a forbidden music that has come from another continent—but the moral of the tale is that the music joins him to a time and place and ideal from which he is separated by the vagaries of history. So long as he can play this jazz, he can communicate to the world a deep, sad, but ultimately triumphant, song of life.