Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513
Daniel Smiricky (SMIH-rzhihts-kee), a forty-eight-year-old Czechoslovakian writer employed as a literature professor at Edenvale College in Toronto. Often preoccupied with memories of his lost youth and lost homeland, Smiricky lives the pains of the exile: grief, social discomfort, linguistic disorientation, and political fear. Self-absorbed and dependent on women but without one, Smiricky struggles to find a professional, social, and political place for himself in Western culture. His journeys through the academic, literary, and émigré communities provide a spectrum of ideologies, ethics, and emotions that counterpoint and contextualize his own views. With the acquisition of a beautiful nineteen-year-old girlfriend, Irene, he seems to be quieting the ghosts of his wartime past and starting life anew.
Irene Svensson, an affluent student at Edenvale College. A voluptuous blonde with a Cadillac, Irene becomes Smiricky’s lover and accompanies him to Paris during reading week. She asserts that she intends to marry him.
Larry Hakim (hah-KEEM), a sophomore in Smiricky’s American literature class. Intensely ideological, this Iranian youth engages his professor in several heated discussions of the political implications of the works of Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner. Hakim’s rabid fanaticism challenges Smiricky to articulate more fully his own politics and his political readings of the works being examined.
Nadia Jirouskova (jih-ROOS-koh-vah), a teenage girl impressed into labor in the Messerschmitt factory in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. A frail peasant girl, she worked beside Smiricky in the factory and inspired his boyish attempts at heroism and succumbed to his boyish charms. Although dead of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-one, she still provides tender and vivid memories for Smiricky.
Veronika Prst, a student at Edenvale. A young Czechoslovakian exile overcome with melancholy, Veronika chooses impulsively to return to her homeland regardless of conditions there. Other émigrés often consider, and often debate, doing as she did.
Milena “Dotty” Cabricarova
Milena “Dotty” Cabricarova (kah-bree-KAH-roh-vah), a Czech émigré in Toronto. Always quirkily dressed and seemingly scatterbrained, Milena is Smiricky’s dearest personal friend in Toronto, although they see each other infrequently. She marries a businessman and happily adjusts to life in the West.
Prema Skocopole (PREH-mah SKOH-koh-poh-leh), a teenage leader of the resistance to Nazis in Kostelec, Smiricky’s hometown. The self-appointed commander of a tiny, fragmented, and boyish underground movement during the German occupation, Prema survived the war and immigrated to Australia. He continues to write to Smiricky for thirty years. A brief return to Kostelec convinces him that he must stay in permanent exile.
Jan Prouza, a poet friend of Smiricky who chose to remain in Czechoslovakia after the Russian invasion in 1968. Smiricky followed Prouza’s battles with censorship from afar. Exhausted by his struggle against the constraints of Socialist Realism, Prouza committed suicide in August, 1972.
Vachousek (VAH-choo-sehk), a Czechoslovakian foreman at the Messerschmitt factory during the occupation. Years later, Smiricky discovers that Vachousek was a prominent resistance leader, while in the factory and for decades afterward. He was captured and executed in the 1970’s. Smiricky regards him as a true hero.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550
In many ways, the life of the narrator of The Engineer of Human Souls resembles that of his creator, Josef kvorecký. kvorecký also survived the German Reich protectorate, earned a Ph.D. after the war, and became a nationally renowned but officially banned writer. Relocated in Toronto after the Soviet invasion of August 21, 1968, kvorecký became a literature professor at Erindale College, University of Toronto, and an active member of the Czech emigre community. His lifelong interests in swing music, cinema,mystery novels, and world literature are also shared by his protagonist. Smiricky’s personality, however, seems to more closely resemble that of T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock. Aging, no longer easily set on fire, self-absorbed, and plagued by vestigial fears, Smiricky is a man nearly drowning in his own memories. By his own estimation, he is prone to sentimentality, full of grief, and dependent on women. He is not above consciously exaggerating both the “heroic connotations” of his war experiences and the dangers of his writing activities to add allure to his image.
Several groups of characters from Smiricky’s past and present are shown through his consciousness. Many of those with whom he grew up in Kostelec are now dead, irretrievably lost and painfully unforgotten, and they haunt him. A large part of Smiricky’s story is written by and for these dead. Re-creating their shared moments of love, humor, friendship, bravery, and cowardice, Smiricky elegizes his friends: Nadia, the honest, simple girl from a lower social class; Benno, the musician; Jan, the poet; Prema, the saboteur; Vrata, the artist; and Vachousek, the factory foreman.
The spys, informers, and paranoid citizens of communist-controlled Czechoslovakia encountered by Smiricky during the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s constitute a second set of characters. Most are shown in wonderfully farcical anecdotes, for “the alchemy of time transforms everything into comedy.” The long arm of totalitarianism is demonstrated by the alleged and real defections of Dr. Toth and the trap sprung by Uher, the malicious Czech secret agent, to force Smiricky to inform on a Czech tourist during one of his literary tours. Critical commentary on Czech literary production and censorship is implicit is Smiricky’s hilarious efforts to get the frightened Czech book smuggler, Novak, to turn over a contraband book to him in the Toronto airport toilet. On a university visit, a Czech poet, Vokurovski, arrives accompanied by a secret agent “translator” who speaks no English. Burlesque tales such as these disclose the inherent absurdities of the sophisticated terrors of modern totalitarianism.
At Edenvale, Smiricky deals with students guilty of “Blessed ignorance! That unforgivable sin of transatlantic civilization!” Most see the world through television and glossy magazines and maintain their parochialism by resisting acquaintance with history, literature, and politics. Fellow emigres, Dotty Cabricarova, Milan Fikejz, Mrs. Santner, Mr. Pohorsky, Bocar and Margitka, and Veronika Prst (among others) are torn between East and West. Many are sick with longing for their homeland yet appalled by its state. They are at once enchanted by the freedoms of the West and terrified of being “infected” by its political obliviousness and its commercialism. These groups of characters share Smiricky’s experiences in different ways at different times over several decades. Together, they display a spectrum of ideologies, ethics, and emotions which counterpoints and amplifies Smiricky’s perceptions.
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