Josef Škvorecký Essay - Critical Essays


Josef kvorecký deliberately challenges readers by creating a complex structure for his novels. He shifts episodes, conversations, and images around, then groups them to give some meaning to the individual’s struggle to rise above the confusion of modern life. vorecký deliberately places incidents and characters at random to keep readers alert. His fragmentation gives emphasis to the term “postmodern.” It is an oversimplification to dismiss him as just an autobiographical novelist. The Danny Smiricky novels may echo some important episodes in kvorecký’s life, but kvorecký clearly states the artist’s right to embellish, to embroider, to transpose.

Above all, kvorecký brings a special humor to his writing; he once commented that he never intended to write satire, but he found himself producing fiction “indistinguishable” from it. He enjoys playing with language, a fact that is best appreciated by those who can read his original Czech.

Perhaps kvorecký’s most successful use of humor is in his creation of a pertinent incident that is often inherently comic and demonstrates a theme or idea. This is evidenced in The Engineer of Human Souls, with kvorecký’s description of the arrival of a paranoid messenger carrying a banned book into Toronto Union Station to deliver it to an unfamiliar receiver, Danny. The whole passage can be extracted from the novel and used as a short story with an obvious theme: the difference between the East and the West.

kvorecký’s novels are novels of ideas; they are neither didactic nor propagandistic. He faced criticism for not championing the reformers and ideologies made popular during the Prague Spring of 1968, but he purposefully created an apolitical hero in Danny, who does not espouse one truth over others. Again, kvorecký challenges readers to not only construct his novels but also examine critically their own thinking.

The Miracle Game

The Miracle Game is an excellent example of kvorecký’s method of writing, as it spans a twenty-year period while avoiding a linear chronology. The novel involves crucial years in Czechoslovak history, from the Soviet occupation to the Prague Spring. In it, kvorecký satirizes the authoritarian control over the Czechoslovaks, particularly Danny Smiricky’s fellow artists. Danny is a jazz-loving adolescent, a member of the tank corps, and a mature writer of innocuous musical comedies. He is distracted from ideological warfare. He is on the fringe of the writers’ groups and manages to view the “intellectuals” from an “inferior” perspective. One of the miracles of the book’s title is the Prague Spring itself, but Danny does not side with any new, strong position, and he prefers to watch disputes from the sidelines. kvorecký does not miss the opportunity for satire, particularly at the writers’ conference, featuring delegates who actively support Socialist Realism, the Communist Party’s view of “good” literature. The satire against authoritarianism is also evident in the hilarious episode of the matriculation exams for the students at Danny’s school.

If the Prague Spring represents a Marxist miracle, the Roman Catholic Church, the other dominant force in Czechoslovakia, can boast of a miracle of its own. A statue of Saint Joseph in a remote chapel moves during morning mass, apparently bowing, possibly toward the West. In the search for the truth about the miracle, the novel borrows from kvorecký’s detective fiction. Was the statue’s movement a scheme to undermine the Church? Did Father Doufal, the priest saying mass at the time, “manufacture” the miracle, as the authorities claimed? Was another culprit involved? For more than twenty years the veracity of the miracle is debated. After an inspiring visit to a sanatorium, Danny seems close to learning the solution; the “answer,” when revealed, however, is ambiguous. The cynical Danny cannot make the leap of faith needed to accept the apparent truth. Readers are forced to make...

(The entire section is 1650 words.)