When Eve Was Naked

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the preface to When Eve Was Naked: Stories of a Life’s Journey, Josef Škvorecký explains that he offers this collection of short fiction in lieu of a memoir, believing that the stories, written over the course of fifty years and rooted in his experience, provide an honest and important account of life in a politically dangerous world. Born in 1924 in a small town in Czechoslovakia, Škvorecký was a teenager during the Nazi occupation of his native country and a young man during the Communist dictatorship; in 1969 he emigrated to Canada.

Most of the stories in the collection are narrated by Danny Smiricky, a character who serves as Škvorecký’s alter ego. In the title story, a schoolboy crush provides eight-year-old Danny with the knowledge that innocence is always an illusion. Later stories play upon this theme as fascism and totalitarianism prove capable of rendering any ordinary act or feeling a harmful one. The most compelling stories memorialize a beloved teacher and a kind physician, both victims of the Holocaust. Stories from the communist era depict young people pursuing youthful interests in an environment so oppressive that normal behavior requires courage. Pieces set in Canada reveal a mature narrator, now a professor, reminded repeatedly of his own past by the naivete of his students.

When Eve Was Naked provides some challenges to readers not familiar with Škvorecký’s earlier fiction. The collection suffers from stylistic unevenness, the result of multiple translators, and, in spite of a smattering of footnotes, many historical references are too obscure for the average reader to follow. However, strong characterization, wit, and sincerity make When Eve Was Naked a valuable addition to Škvorecký’s work.