Josef Skvorecky (Czech, 1924)
"Zbabelci/ The Cowards" (1949) +
"Legenda Emoke" (1963)
"Smutek Porucika Boruvky Detektivni Pohadka/ The Mournful demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka" (1966)
"Bassaxofon/ Bass Saxophon" (1967)
"Tankovy Prapor/ Tank Batallion" (1971)
"Mirakl/ The Miracle Game" (1972) +
"Priben Inzennyra Lidskych Dusi/ The Engineer of Human Souls" (1977) ++
is a multi-layered comic novel of sorts that mainly takes place inside the
chaotic landscape of the protagonist's memory, running back and forth between
the Nazist occupation of Czechoslovakia, life under communism and life among
Another student is Veronika. Another professor is Rocky, who teaches avantgarde theater by having his students physically attack him. Some letters are dated from the early communist era. One is from Prema who emigrated in Australia. Back to the nazist era, Dan was so scared after the foreman found out about his plans that he contemplated joining a seminary. He visits Prema's father, Skocdopole, who tells him how he fought against the communists during the revolution. Dan reminisces about Pytlic, who worked for the nazis during the war and then for the communists after the liberation. Back to the nazi era, Dan has loved Irena for six years, with the exception of Nadia and Marie. Margitka is Dan's lover in Canada. She is 40-year old and is married to a man in a wheelchair.
Margitka suspects that they are being spied and confesses that she was faithful to her husband during the ten years that he was in jail as a political prisoner under communism. Another former political prisoner, Bocar, tells the story of how they were arrested for plotting anti-communist activities and they all confessed for fear of being shot.
Back to the time of the German occupation, Nadia is worried about Dan, convinced that Dan will soon be arrested unless he hides in the forest and joins the resistance. Dan takes advantage of Nadia's feelings towards his heroism and finally has sex with her, thereby losing his virginity (on a cold winter night during which Nadia fell sick). However he was also in love with Irena and Marie, both of whom he had courted for years unsuccessfully. (In a letter he receives after the war a friend informs him that Marie is pregnant and getting married with Franta).
Four years later, under Soviet occupation (instead of German occupation), Prema and Dan were again plotting an act of sabotage. It failed pathetically like the previous one, and a lot of the conspirators were arrested. Prema managed to flee, and Dan was not implicated, but Dan's father was arrested.
Back to the present, Dan is attending a party at which Veronika makes a fool of herself, despite being the girlfriend of Perceval/Percy. Percy's sister Irene provokes Dan while smoking marijuana. Dan comments that in that age and place everything is possible, but how about something nice.
After the war, Dan met Irena again. She was now married to a jealous man who had just discovered a book that Dan had written for Irena, detailing not only his failed attempts at seducing her but (more damagingly) Irena's many love affairs. The husband first invited Dan in and sarcastically left them alone, but then returned to throw him out. Dan had time to tell Irena that he would always love her, but Irena coldly replied that she would never sleep with him.
Back to the Nazist era, at the factory Dan was summoned by the German-American controller Uippelt. Dan panicked when he realized that Uippelt had found out about the sabotage, but then Uippelt simply gave him a secret assignment, revealing that he too was working against the Germans. Nonetheless Dan continued to live in fear, both for himself and for Nadia, who had fallen sick with tubercolosis and was not showing up at work anymore.
Back to the present, Booker writes his love to Lida from Toronto.
Back to the Canadian exile era, Dan meets fellow Czech emigrants at the party. They are conspiring to stage a coup in Czechoslovakia and he enrolls in the secret society. One of them is soon killed by a sniper, probably a killer hired by the Czech secret services.
Back to the Nazist era, a worried Dan was hanging out in front of Nadia's place, seeing only her fiance Franta but not Nadia. His old flame Marie made fun of him and revealed that she too had lost her virginity. That was at the beginning of the war. The book then jumps to the end of the war, when Franta helps both Nadia and Dan to hide. The foreman has been arrested for the attempted sabotage. Prema knows that the Germans have lost the war and don't really care anymore, and that there is a new enemy to fear: the Soviet army that is advancing.
One day Franta hit Dan so violently that he had to be hospitalized. Dan and everybody else thought that Franta had found out about his affair with Nadia, still formally engaged to Franta. Instead Franta told Dan that it was because Dan had endangered Nadia's life by involving her in the sabotage plan. Franta, a pure of heart, had not realized that Dan and Nadia had slept together.
Letters sent to Dan during the communist era by Prema from Australia and by the poet Jan, who debates what poetry should be under socialism.
Now the story is told by Dan while on a boat with a bunch of decadent Canadian friends, all of them stoned, including Irene. He defines himself a "living stream of consciousness" and in fact the description of the boat trip is interspersed with all sorts of reminiscences and letters.
Elsewhere, a drunk Milan tries to make love to Veronika, who is not interested. But someone sees her there and thinks that Milan succeeded.
Back to communist Czechoslovakia, Dan had learned of the execution of Prema's saboteurs during a train trip, sitting next to an old acquaitance, Uher, who had refused to hide Prema after the act of sabotage against the Germans. Dan recalled how he had helped Prema escape in time, but the others had all been captured and now executed. Dan was alive only because they had not betrayed him. Reading the distorted biography of Prema in the official newspaper, Dan was revolted but quickly realized that his old friend Uher was now a strong believer in communism and was accompanied by two sinister figures who started asking Dan about his contacts with Prema. Dan was just beginning to learn how dangerous the new masters were.
A letter by a friend written when Marie's daughter was seven-years old informs him that Marie would like to see him and gives him the days when Franta is not home. While Dan had secretely slept with Nadia, Franta had secretely slept with Marie.
After the end of the war, as he was going to the cinema with Irena, Dan saw that the communists had captured Uippelt. He rushed to tell them that Uippelt had saved his life and worked for the resistance too. But in vain. When he was finally allowed to visit Uippelt he found that the man had been beaten to death by his "interrogators".
A Rebecca was writing from Israel to thank Dan for what he did to help her and her son David when they were still in Czechoslovakia.
On the boat Irene finally offers herself to Dan, but Dan understands that the provoking blonde is actually still a virgin, and refuses her, without exactly knowing why. Then Dan starts telling her a story, the same story he tried to tell Marie's daughter Daniela, when he finally went to visit them. It's a funny story of an incident that happened when he and a friend tried to peek at a naked Marie in the public baths. But both stories (the one he tells Irene and the one he tried to tell Daniela, one interrupted by the other) are not completed because 1. he was interrupted by Marie while he was telling Daniela about the old incident, and 2. the novel just jumps to other scenes. All the readers are told is that Marie's naked body revealed something that no other woman had.
Dan met Nadia again almost towards the end of the war, when she was about to
get married to Franta. Franta was not home and Nadia begged Dan to let her
sleep with him. Nadia was very sick and fully aware of dying.
Obviously she was very much in love with Dan, not knowing that Dan had only
wanted her out of lust.
"Scherzo Capriccioso/ Dvorak in Love" (1984)
"Nevesta z Texasu/ The Bride of Texas" (1996)