Critical Context

The Cowards was kvorecký’s first novel, and it contains themes and metaphors which have recurred often in his work. Jazz has remained an important metaphor of freedom and resistance to authority, and the individual’s perception of reality, as opposed to the “official” versions of life, has become a central theme in his work. Clearly, kvorecký is not a man who could remain content under an authoritarian regime, and all of his work has been a claim for the supremacy of the human imagination and freedom over the demands of the state.

Although he has been an exile from Czechoslovakia since the late 1960’s and has taught for much of that time at the University of Toronto, kvorecký has continued to write in Czech, which reflects his obsession with his own identity and his situation as an exile. He has tried to maintain relations with his homeland, having translated many books from English into Czech and helping to run a Czech-language publishing house started by his wife. He won the Governor-General’s Award of Canada for his novel Pribeh inzenyra lidskych dusi (1977; The Engineer of Human Souls, 1984) and is the best known of all the writers in exile from Central Europe living in Canada.