Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky
Bakalářská diplomová práce
2007 Mgr. Radka Dolíhalová
Faculty of Arts
Department of English and American Studies
English Language and Literature
Mgr. Radka Dolíhalová
Josef Škvorecký and the Position of the Émigré (Writer)
Supervisor: PhDr. Thomas Donaldson Sparling, B.A.
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to express many thanks to my supervisor, PhDr. Thomas Donaldson Sparling, B. A. for his kind help and valuable advice.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction 7
2. Josef Škvorecký biography and bibliography 11
3. Josef Škvorecký in exile 15
4. The Case of Danny Smiřický 17
5. Experiencing exile 20
6. Viewing Canadian/Western Society 28
7. Books only for Czechs? 37
8. Conclusion 39
I have chosen to write my thesis about emigration, presumably about émigré people and émigré writers. I have decided this way since in my opinion emigration was mainly in the 20th century quite common issue. Before the emergence of modern totalitarian regimes, authors living and writing in exile were rare. But it was only with the rise of Fascism and Communism that an author living outside his native country became a common phenomenon.
In comparison with other European countries whose fate is closely tied to the history of Nazism and Communism, until the 1970s and 1980s Czechoslovakia produced a relatively small number of exiled authors (after 1968, the government became satisfied just with silencing authors, rather than persecuting them physically, so quite a number of writers were forced to emigrate – either voluntarily or involuntarily.
The list of them includes the talented contemporary Czech writers, such as Jiří Gruša, Pavel Kohout, Milan Kundera, Arnošt Lustig and Josef Škvorecký. All the writers listed continued to write even in the difficult conditions of living in emigration. Although it may seem they were writing mainly for their émigré compatriots, they hoped their works would make their way back to Czechoslovakia. And indeed, the novels and other pieces of literature did, presumably via the samizdat. All the writers listed above were translated, we can say even extensively translated (more than most of the writers who remained in Czechoslovakia).
Among the Czech émigré writers extensively translated into foreign languages, and who have received the greatest critical and popular attention in the West, Milan Kundera and Josef Škvorecký stand out. The works of both authors go well beyond purely national concerns, yet their work is difficult to imagine without the specific historical consciousness of the small country in the centre of Europe. Their “Czechness” is an integral part of their fiction, and is to a substantial degree responsible for their special appeal.
The works of both were never devoid of hope for a better future for their country, even when the authors sometimes appear to argue the opposite.
Since Josef Škvorecký now lives in Canada and is a perfect expert on the English language and Anglophone literatures, I have chosen him and his works to be the main topic of my thesis.
Škvorecký’s writing career spans about four decades. He has been a productive writer, in spite of the fact that he has a distinctive “easy-pen” temperament. After his emigration, Škvorecký, aided by his wife Zdena Salivarová, conceived the idea of launching their own publishing house. Sixty-Eight Publishers became in the 1970s and 1980s the leading publishing house of the Czech literature in the West. It has published Škvorecký’s books in Czech. However, there was a considerable delay in the publication of his works in English. Even in spite of the fact that nowadays he is viewed as a Canadian author, and receives Canadian literary awards.
The aim of the thesis is to depict Josef Škvorecký as an interesting figure from the point of view of emigration. He certainly is one of the most significant members of the Czech émigré community in Canada. Not only he, as a persona, but also his literary works deal very often with the issue of emigration, not only to Canada and not only in the 20th century.1
I have chosen him since he, an active artistic and political figure, can show us the real picture of the émigré community in its natural environment. However, not only he describes the situation, he tries to evaluate it as well. I would like to aim the thesis to this issue.
I have decided to divide the thesis to two main sections. In the first one I will examine the picture of the émigré community and other émigré experience in Josef Škvorecký’s novels The Miracle Game and The Engineer of Human Souls. I will also talk about other book written in exile: about The Swell Season. The collection of short stories may seem to have nothing in common with emigration theme, but I will try to show that even this work was somehow affected by the issue of emigration.
I will also concentrate on the fact whether and how the exile affected Josef Škvorecký’s life. For this purpose I will use some interviews with him or his essays on the emigration or essays of other people dealing with his personality or experience.
In the next section I will analyse his view of Western, or Canadian in particular, people. My main interest will be how Josef Škvorecký depicts their political views and attitudes.
Again, I have decided to select just two novels by him: the novels written or published by the year 1989. I will look closely at The Engineer of Human Souls and The Miracle Game.
I am aware of the fact that those two issues are closely interconnected. Sometimes it was more than difficult to decide whether the issue depicted is nearer to one or the other topic.
When talking about the literary works of Josef Škvorecký, it would be inconceivable not to mention Danny Smiřický, sometimes called the alter ego of the author himself. (e.g. Gleb Žekulin in his essay on Josef Škvorecký in the collection of essays The Achievement of Josef Škvorecký)2.
I have chosen the year 1989 because in my view this year is a milestone not only in history of the Czech Republic, but also in history of life of Josef Škvorecký. At last he could come back to his home country, his fiction could be published again, and he could express his opinions freely. I think the coming of such new conditions had some impacts on his literary work as well (rather eloquent is the fact that after the so-called Velvet Revolution he wrote just one major novel).
2. Josef Škvorecký’s biography and bibliography
Josef Škvorecký is probably the most famous Czech – Canadian author. His works are read both in Czech and English, and most of them are translated into other languages as well (mainly to French and German). He writes not only fiction, but he is also acknowledged scholar of literature (he was teaching at the University Of Toronto, Canada for a long time after his emigration).
Critiques often ask whether he is one of the most important Czech writers of the second half of the twentieth century who, together with Kundera, Hrabal, and one or two others, has elevated the little-known Central European country to the level where it has become a familiar part of world literature, or whether he is just a good entertainer whose well-crafted books win literary prizes from time to time but are destined to have a short life. But in my view, the first attitude prevails now in the approach of modern Czech literary scholars.
Josef Škvorecký was born 1924 in Náchod, Bohemia, in the former Czechoslovakia3. He graduated in 1943 from the Reálné gymnasium in his hometown. As part of Josef Goebbel's Totaleinsatz scheme, he worked for two years in a German aircraft factory. This period of his personal history he could later elaborate in his novels.
After World War Two he studied at Charles University in Prague, and received his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1952. During the years 1952 - 54 he served in the Czechoslovak army, and then held editorial jobs in the Odeon Publishing House. His first novel, The Cowards, written in 1948 - 49, was not published until 1958, immediately condemned by the Communist party, banned and seized by the police. According to many critics this novel marks the beginning of the end of socialist realism in Czech literature. Škvorecký then published several other books and wrote scripts for feature films.
After the Soviet invasion in 1968 Škvorecký and his wife left for Canada where he continued writing novels, and taught in the Department of English, University of Toronto until his retirement in 1990.
In 1971 Škvorecký and his wife, writer and actress Zdena Salivarová, founded the Sixty-Eight Publishers, Corp. which for over twenty years kept publishing banned Czech and Slovak books. For this contribution, the president of post-Communist Czechoslovakia Václav Havel awarded them the Order of the White Lion. In 1992 Škvorecký was appointed the Order of Canada.
Among his numerous literary awards, the most important are the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1980), the Canadian Governor General's Award for Best Fiction (1984), the Czech Republic State Prize for Literature (1999) and the Prize of the Comenius Pangea Foundation “For Improvement of Human Affairs” (2001) which he received with the Polish film director Andrzej Wajda.
Most of his books are available in English: the novels The Cowards, Miss Silver's Past, The Republic of Whores, The Miracle Game, The Swell Season, The Engineer of Human Souls, The Bride of Texas, Dvorak in Love, The Tenor Saxophonist's Story, Two Murders in My Double Life, An Inexplicable Story or The Narrative of Questus Firmus Siculus, his selected short stories When Eve Was Naked and the two short novels The Bass Saxophone and Emöke. He also wrote four books of detective fiction featuring Lieutenant Boruvka of the Prague Homicide Bureau: The Mournful Demeanour of Ltn. Boruvka, Sins for Father Knox, The End of Ltn. Boruvka and The Return of Ltn. Boruvka.
His poetry, both published and unpublished, has been brought out in 1999 as ...there's no remedy for this pain.
With his friend, the poet Jan Zábrana, Škvorecký published three more detective novels, Murder for Luck, Murder by Proxy and Guaranteed Murder and a novel for children Tanya and the Two Gunmen (not available in English).
With his wife, he published (in Czech only, so far) three crime novels, Brief Encounter, with Murder; Encounter after Many Years, with Murder and Encounter at the End of an Era, with Murder.
Škvorecký also published several volumes of short stories; a selection of them was published in English as When Eve Was Naked.
His non-fiction works include Talkin' Moscow Blues, a book of essays on jazz, literature and politics, an autobiography – memoirs Headed for the Blues, two books on the Czech cinema, All the Bright Young Men and Women and Jiří Menzel and the History of the "Closely Watched Trains". He is also recognized thinker and author of many essays whose titles will prove my thought from the Introduction about his social and political concerns, e.g. Spring of Hope – Winter of Discontent, The Exiled writer and the Christian Principles, At Home in Exile: Czech Writers in the West, Are Canadians Politically Naive?, Freedom and All That Jazz, Living an Orwell Nightmare.
Škvorecký extensively wrote for films and television. The feature film The Tank Corps, adapted from his novel of the same name (in English the title is The Republic of Whores), was the first Czech film made not by the Barrandov State Studios but by a private company, The Bonton Films; it was the biggest box-office success since the fall of communism. Other features, written for Prague TV, include Eine kleine Jazzmusik, adapted from his story of the same name, The Emöke Legend from a novella of the same name, and a two-hour TV drama Poe and the Murder of a Beautiful Girl, based on the murder of Mary Rogers of New York which Poe had used for his story "The Mystery of Marie Roget". Three very successful TV serials were made from his stories: Sins for Father Knox, The Swell Season and Murders for Luck.
3. Josef Škvorecký in exile
As I showed before, Josef Škvorecký has rather interesting fate. First the acknowledged author of literary works in his homeland, then the prohibited writer, and then the person in exile, who acclaims literary awards in his new “home” country and even teaches at the renowned university.
After his arrival to North America in January 1969, he became an author in exile whose name disappeared from official Czechoslovak publications and whose books were banned. At the age of forty-four he reluctantly but not involuntarily joined the list of European writers whose life and work are marked by the “wound” of exile (I am not sure whether I can use the word “wound” in the case of Josef Škvorecký, I will elaborate on this issue later on in the thesis) and whose books were not readily accessible in their homelands before 1989.
More unexpectedly, he also became one of those rare writers whose writing found a place in the literatures of two countries. In the two decades following his emigration, this Czech “man of letters” became a professor of English literature at the University of Toronto and a Czech-Canadian novelist.
Josef Škvorecký always declares that he is only the North-American Czech because longer part of his life he has been living in Canada. Most of his books were also produced there (he wrote 35 books from which 18 was written in Canada). In his view living in Canada has one indisputable advantage: it is the country based on the tradition of “comers” (in original “přišlík”) and thus the exulant can feel purely American or Canadian after a while. He thinks that this fact is not possible in any European country: that is his main reason for staying in Canada.
Another reason was certainly the idea of multiculturalism which Škvorecký prizes and admires very much. But on the other hand he is quite afraid of the fact that preserving old traditions may have adverse consequences (e.g. inaccurate and biased images of individual cultures).
Škvorecký also sees some advantages of living in exile. In his opinion emigration changed his life quiet profoundly: it simply broadened his mind. (Hvížďala 1991: 194)
In exile, Škvorecký was able to write novels like The Miracle Game4 and The Engineer of Human Souls, which he could not have published had he remained in Czechoslovakia. It is real irony that by becoming a Canadian and thus being able to write two of the books that are among his finest works, he also became a greater and ultimately more important Czech and international writer (this would not have been possible had he remained in Prague).
At first he went to Canada to study for a certain period of time. But “unfortunately” it was after the “fraternal” help of the Soviet Union in 1968, so he decided to stay there, so to say, forever. He resumes his reasons for staying in Canada quite reasonably in his interview with Sam Solecki:
“Never in my life had I enjoyed the basic and most important things without which human life is not fully human: freedom, living in a democratic society not oppressed by foreign power or foreign ideology; living without fear of the all-powerful secret police, be it the Gestapo or its Czech-Communist equivalent, the StB. It was only during these twenty-three years that I was able to write and publish my books without any form of censorship, external of internal. I also found myself in a society where I never felt any discrimination, although I speak with an accent and although most of what I have written is not about Canada.” (Solecki 1987: 14)
4. The case of Danny Smiřický
I have decided to include the section dealing with the problem of Danny Smiřický. I have to subsume this chapter because the issue of autobiographical or biographical features in the works of Josef Škvorecký is crucial and I will also quite frequently mention his name later in the thesis.
Danny Smiřický as a hero appeared for the first time in The Cowards and since then he plays the main role in the several important novels by Josef Škvorecký. Such novels can be seen by the reader as a kind of diaries or in some cases (mainly in the case of The Miracle Game) as documentary literature (which is not actually factual but deals with concrete experience and quasi-concrete personalities).
In The Cowards, Škvorecký seems to reduce the distance between himself and his personal protagonist to the point that readers at time have been known to be unable to distinguish between the author and the character (this fact is proven in the reactions of readers published in the book called Samožerbuch5). Žekulin argues that “Škvorecký has created Danny to mediate between real events and readers in order to deal with history.” (Žekulin in Solecki 1994: 60)
The main reason for creating Danny Smiřický was in my view the need of the writer to centre almost exclusively on the analysis of subjective feelings which Škvorecký often claimed for: “basically, I only endeavoured to tell what I have lived through”. (Salivarová, Škvorecký 1991: 117) And he has done it by “recreating” himself in Smiřický.
Danny is the same age as Škvorecký: twenty-one in 1945. His surname Smiřický is that of a Bohemian noble family with whom the Škvoreckýs had a close connection in the seventeenth century (at least that is what Škvorecký himself says). The description of Kostelec where Danny lives is that of Náchod, where Škvorecký lived. Danny’s adventures repeat the author’s adventures as they took place or as he wished them to have taken place. That are probably the reasons why Žekulin considers Danny, starting with The Cowards, through such collections as Sedmiramenný svícen (The Menorah), The Swell Season (both have a pre-Cowards Danny as their protagonist), and Hořkej svět (The Bitter World), through The Republic of Whores, Emöke, The Bass Saxophone, and The Miracle Game, to The Engineer of Human Souls, being Josef Škvorecký as seen and lived by the writer Josef Škvorecký.
It could seem that the novels mentioned above are purely autobiographical. But this is not the case. Škvorecký knows that a real writer does not and cannot write just about himself and that is probably the reason why he endowed his hero with quite opposite qualities from himself (Danny has never married and the sexual affairs described in the novels hardly reflect Škvorecký’s real circumstances).
I will now concentrate more on the two novels written in exile. In The Miracle Game Škvorecký presents two Dannys simultaneously – the young one who is still in the process of growing up emotionally, intellectually, and especially morally, and the middle-aged one who has established for himself his own scale of values but is now willing to declare it in public. The attacks on Josef Škvorecký after publishing the novel in connection with the fact written in the book only show that the distance between the author and his alter ego had been reduced to such an extent that not only the readers but the critics as well have tended to confuse the two6.
Žekulin thinks that “in The Engineer of Human Souls Škvorecký rewrote his first novel, The Cowards.” (Žekulin in Solecki 1994: 69) In this vast novel he creates the new, “American” Danny, who is understanding, patient and tolerant. Danny has changed somehow and acquired new features as well. He does not actively involve himself in the life around him any more; rather he stands aside, observes and passes judgement.
Thus in The Engineer of Human Souls we have once again two Dannys – the young Danny of Kostelec and “today’s” Danny, the author’s contemporary, who is in fact almost indistinguishable from him (I personally for the most part, did not see or understand this latter Danny as a separate/a created character). Like Škvorecký, Danny is an émigré Czech writer. He lives in Toronto and is employed as a professor of literature at the college. We can find even more parallels between reality and fiction, but it is of much less interest than in Škvorecký’s previous novels.
But as I stated above, Danny cannot be identified totally with his creator.
5. Experiencing exile
I have decided to include this section to my thesis for one clear reason. Ordinary people can live through experience but only writers are able to put some reflections of it into their works. And they often do that. In my view the case of Josef Škvorecký exemplifies the fact. His novels are called autobiographic and as shown earlier in the thesis they in a way are. The example of The Engineer of Human Souls, where the hero himself is an emigrant and Škvorecký depicts his feelings and attitudes towards his new environment, was discussed in the previous section and will gain attention in the next chapter as well.
The Miracle Game is interesting in another way. It was the first book published in Canada after Josef Škvorecký left Czechoslovakia and he decided to elaborate in it the most mysterious case in the history of Czechoslovakian 1950s. Such topic was inconceivable in the 1970s Czechoslovakia. He simply felt the need to deal somehow with the problem and only exile enabled him to do so.
The topic of the thesis is the position of an émigré, more the position of an émigré writer. And that is why I describe in the next section not only the depiction of exile in novels by Josef Škvorecký, but also the impact of exile on his personality and personal experience, pertinently on his attitudes and literary attempts.
Škvorecký himself pounces, that exile, even if it is unwilling, can bring something positive to one’s life: the new and objective point of view” (Hvížďala 1991: 194). Thus the sorrow of emigration is compensated with an originality of vision that, for the novelist, may result in such books as The Engineer of Human Souls.
The Czech version of the novel was published in 1977, while the English translation did not appear until 1984. It became an immediate critical success, particularly in the United States, where Czech émigré fiction had recently started to receive considerable attention.
In the novel, memories of the Czech past are described nostalgically and with great affection, they pull in a way Smiřický away from a Canadian and exile present he claims to prefer but to which he is less deeply attached. It is proven mainly by the fact that the scenes from émigré life have less emotional intensity and are written less evocatively then those fragments of a “distant” past.
The title not only is an ironic reference to the Stalinist aesthetics, it also indirectly suggests the biographical nature of the novel. The connection between the narrator and the author is implied in a number of ways (I dealt with this issue in the foregoing section dedicated to the character of Danny Smiřický).
Scenes from Smiřický’s émigré life occupy a larger part of the novel. Generally, they are of superior interest, since they contain a greater wealth of situations and characters (but as stated above, they are much less emotional). Smiřický’s career as a university teacher comprises the main narrative strand.
The second, closely related to the first, is constituted by his love affair with one of his students, the beautiful and rich Irene Swensson. A third strand consists of miscellaneous, unconnected episodes. They deal mainly with the life of Czech émigré society in Canada, which Smiřický observes more than participates in.
The image of Evandale College drawn by the author is that of a North American university of the 1970s. Here Škvorecký mainly concentrates on depiction of political naivity and a life without any “real” problems, so I will elaborate on this in the next section about Josef Škvorecký’s views of Canadian and Western society in general.
As a teacher of literature, Smiřický is put into a position whose paradoxical nature he is constantly aware of. By temperament non-academic, he has to perform tasks which require systematic presentation and discipline. His experiences as an author, his instinctive insight into literary works, as well as his broad knowledge, fail to win his students over. His pupils listen to him without concentration and perform their assignments in a routine manner. They cheat whenever they can. But Smiřický has become more and more accustomed to this attitude. The students, suffering from “Blessed ignorance! Than unforgivable sin of Trans-Atlantic civilization”7, think “everything that happened before the death of Janis Joplin as prehistoric.”8
Škvorecký concentrates mainly on the description of his colleagues and students. Outside the academic world, the portrayal of native Canadians is limited to a small circle consisting of the Swensson family and their friends. The Czech émigré population is, however represented richly. They form quite a heterogeneous group. The older immigrants do not get along well with the post-1968 immigrants. They do not believe the ex-Communists; they are not able to understand fully the fact that before the 1968 crisis the distinction between Communist and non-Communist had essentially lost its former meaning.
Smiřický considers himself a member of this community; however, he can develop such a distance from it to be able to talk about it ironically. He shares with others nostalgia for their native land, but knows that it is absolutely useless to maintain ethnic traditions in a distant foreign country.
But I have to accent that the narrator is sometimes profoundly compassionate towards many individuals in the émigré community. The most fully developed is the figure of a young girl or woman called Veronika Prst. With no other character does Škvorecký make such a concentrated effort to dramatise the emotional and intellectual contradictions of an exile. Veronika is probably the most vividly portrayed female character from the émigré community, despite the fact that she appears only in a small number of episodes. Her main task, in my view, is to represent Danny in situations to which he would never be able to get. That is probably the reason why she has almost the same opinions as Danny and sometimes figures as his spiritual companion.
Veronika’s foil is another Czech girl nicknamed Blběnka.9 She is a model of adaptability and assimilation. Her main goal is security and prosperity. Lacking any particular talent, she makes sexuality her main tool for the achievement of her objectives.
Many other Czechs populate the pages of the novel. Some appear only once, some repeatedly. But they never get more space than the above mentioned female figures.
The description of emigrant gatherings is somehow significant: the conversations are carried on in the native tongue of the particular group; every other sentence is patiently translated into broken English for the Canadian husbands or American boyfriends. The émigrés talk about nothing but their native land – how it was there, and how it will be in the future. Each person tells his own story. Jan Kott uses an interesting statement: “the life stories of the émigrés are a chapter out of the collective history of that country.” (Kott in Solecki 1987: 128)
Canada certainly is a country, where perhaps as much as one-third of the population are immigrants like Škvorecký, and where the word immigrant lacks pejorative connotations. So the immigrant theme is naturally present in the novel. It is part of the narrator’s, Danny Smiřický’s, Canadian experience.
For Škvorecký Canada in the novel means mainly Toronto, or more precisely its suburb, Mississauga, the site of his Edenvale College (a fictional version of Škvorecký’s own Erindale College of the University of Toronto. He feels the wilderness of the Canadian landscape. The wilderness is not only realistic; it is also the wilderness of the relationships, wilderness of the university campuses, and wilderness of Toronto skyscrapers which resemble Škvorecký the huge beehives.
What are the positives of living in exile? The author gives us the answer. The hero is glad that he has the freedom of choice, the openness, the possibilities, and the tolerance in his new homeland. Danny is happy to be there with the Chinese girls and a black girl: they make him fell not an immigrant, an outsider, but a person integrated into perhaps a higher order of citizenship. This is for that matter the main “Canadian” characteristic: some Canadians like to think of themselves as more fortunate than people in countries with racial and ethnic tensions. For Danny (who cannot help remembering the war) Canada, not experiencing the war on its territory, seems like the paradise even more.
The book is also a fascinating study of the way cultures, traditions and people change yet continue in exile. Danny has become a Canadian professor, and his links with Canadian youth lead him into recollections of the young people he lived among and loved a generation ago. The book is largely structured on these parallels between the young in different times and places. Suddenly he realizes young people are not very different in different countries – they are in fact similar, they even act in similar ways. That reminds him of his own young years, filled with unconcern.
The book seems to be placed in between two “worlds”: the one where one can enjoy much real freedom and the one where freedoms are few and the liberty to speak and write as one wishes is almost none. It is the inevitable fact, since the author, too, lives “in between two worlds”. In the final chapter he offers the following summary of his attitude to his native land:
“Now that country interests me only as a subject of research, its language as a plaything suitable for puns and verbal games. I am no longer a part of it: I carry my native land in my heart. National in form, international in feeling. I am now part of that non-nation which is a million people scattered over prairies and islands and continents, to whom nothing much happens any longer.”10
Danny Smiřický living in Czechoslovakia idealized Anglo-American world as the world of freedom and boundless possibilities. He idealized jazz and English as symbols of independence and nonconformity. And in the novel he often describes Canada as the country with no past. For him the country seems to be young and innocent, a wilderness land, where, if one obeys the law there is no danger for him. “Perhaps it’s an imperfect Utopia.”11
The Miracle Game (Mirákl in Czech) was Škvorecký’s first novel written in exile and as such is somehow affected by the emigration theme as well: Solecki thinks that Škvorecký’s main incitement for writing the novel was just “the need to justify his decision to leave.” (Solecki 1990: 131) And that is the reason why I have chosen it to analyse in the thesis.
The work was published by Sixty Eight Publishers and it immediately became one of the most popular as well as one of the most controversial of Josef Škvorecký’s novel. It touched off heated debates in the Czech émigré community and in Czechoslovakia’s intellectual underground. It was mainly the political significance of some scenes in the book that raised the excitement. There Smiřický acts as a narrator-observer.
The novel depicts two “miracles” actually. The one is the so-called Číhošť miracle when probably the secret police lined up the moving of the cross in the small church in the unimportant small village. Škvorecký considered the Prague Spring movement as the other “miracle”.
There are fewer stories from émigré life in the novel then in The Engineer of Human Souls. In my view the exile had only one impact on the book: the openness. And that is the reason why The Miracle was so praised but also insulted after its publication.
The Prague Spring movement described in the novel came to be regarded by Czech patriots, despite its tragic end, as one of the finest hours in the country’s history. In contrast to this almost universal view in the early 1970s, Škvorecký’s book is a biting satire against the reform movement. The Communist reformists are in the eyes of Škvorecký either impractical romantics, or neurotics. Škvorecký extensively portrays the ideological hangover of the “honest” Communist, but shows little sympathy for it.
The Miracle Game portrays the Prague Spring as a grotesque carnival of fools, a period of madness, during which only a few individuals, such as Škvorecký’s narrative alter ego Smiřický, had preserved their sanity.
Škvorecký was open enough to depict some of the characters from reality who could be easily identifiable by almost every educated Czech(oslovak) reader. The foreigners reading the book very often did not know the Czech literary situation and thus the “search for parallels” was not possible (even though some of the characters in the novel were parodies of individuals well known in the West: Pavel Kohout, Václav Havel etc.).
On the contrary, among the weakest episodes are those describing Danny Smiřický’s experiences in the United States and Canada where he flees after the occupation in August 1968. The portrayal of American society is essentially limited to a portrayal of the radical Left of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Again, I will elaborate on this in the next section.
Škvorecký defends his views by his position of emigrant. In his opinion, being an emigrant is that one remains tied to the old country and concerned with its fate. Since the fate of Czechoslovakia was tied up with communism, than it was inevitably his interest or politics to be profoundly to remain concerned with foreign affairs.
Škvorecký has also an interesting view of “politics”. In his opinion, the attitude to politics or to the “home” country depends on the age when you emigrate. People who emigrate as children can easily become “pure” Canadians concerning Canadian national issues. Those who came to Canada as adults will always be more concerned with features of global character.