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Josef Skvorecky

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1990. 436pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-88619-342-7
Distributed by Key Porter Books. CIP

Reviewed by Lillian M. Turner.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

Skvorecky has several fiction and non-fiction works to his credit, most of them originally published in Czech, as was The Miracle Game in 1972. He is best known in Canada for The Engineer of Human Souls, which won the Governor General's Literary Prize in 1984. It deals with the Soviet invasion of his native Czechoslovakia, which precipitated his immigration to Canada. Other honours include the 1980 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and a 1982 nomina­tion for the Nobel Prize. In the fall of 1990 he received his own country's highest honour from an old friend, now president, Vaclav Havel, in recognition for his keeping Czech literature alive through his own writings and the publishing firm operated with his wife during the Russian oppression. Havel was among their authors.

The Miracle Game is narrated by Daniel Smiricky, the cool womanizer whom readers will remember from The Engineer. It opens in 1949 in the town of Hronov, where he is a teacher and where the miracle underlying the plot occurs. A crude statue of St. Joseph appears to bow of itself in a blessing during chapel service. The presiding priest was accused of chicanery and later murdered by his accusers. By now Danny has become a successful libret­tist. His efforts to unearth the facts of the case provide material for the rest of the novel until the 1968 brief-lived Prague Spring.

The translator was expelled from Czechoslovakia after ten years as a translator and English teacher. His works include translations of the works of several Czech authors, Skvorecky and Havel being two. He deserves credit for preserving the content in such memora­ble language: "a red log crashed to the hot bricks of the fireplace and sighed"; "I could almost hear his subdued, emotionless voice going on like a talking fish". And then there is the conversa­tion between Danny and Dr. Gellen, who chillingly recounts another conver­sation about a torture method favoured by a particular secret police. Overall, the narrative contains a good deal of dialogue and description revealing man's compromises in face of threats to life.

In the school context, The Miracle Game will be read only by mature senior students of world literature. It requires some knowledge of twentieth-century Czechoslovakian history and the current political climate. It is more suitable for public libraries and post-secondary study.

Lillian M. Turner, City of York Board of Education, Toronto, Ont.
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