This autobiography in stories takes us through a most remarkable life, from the innocence of prewar Prague through the horrors of the Nazi occupation and World War II. In the title story, narrated by Skvorecky’s alter-ego Danny Smiricky, seven-year-old Danny falls in love for the first time; at sixteen he hides in a railway station and watches as his Jewish teacher is herded onto a train and taken away; and in 1968, as Russian tanks rolled into Prague, vSkvoreck´y flees Czechoslovakia, taking Danny with him. In the collection’s final stories, Danny begins his tenure as Professor Smiricky at a Canadian university and attempts to come to terms with the politically innocent and self-centered youth that flock to his courses.
Just before Skvorecky turned 70, his friends urged him to write his memoirs. He decided instead to publish this collection of short stories, in which "nearly everything worth telling," as he writes in his preface, is present in one form or another. Taken together, the 24 tales work as both biography and history, tracking the literary life of one of the former Czechoslovakia's premier writers and the fate of his country under Nazi rule and Communist repression. The initial stories, which go by such self-explanatory titles as "How My Literary Career Began," "My Uncle Kohn" and "My Teacher, Mr. Katz," offer brief snapshots of the author's early years, and the specter of Nazism constantly hovers in the background as various characters are spirited away to the concentration camps. The most effective items in the collections are the longer, mid-career entries: "The End of Bull M cha" is an unusual look at political repression, in which a former jazz musician is thrown out of a club for his outrageous jitterbug dancing, while "Spectator on a February Night" tracks the chaos that occurs when Prague's left-wing journalists are forced to leave the country during the 1968 student demonstrations. The romantically oriented stories are a bit muddled by comparison, and a couple of the late-career stories that revolve around Skvorecky's teaching career are pedantic and ineffective. Skvorecky displays the tongue-in-cheek irony that is common to many Eastern European writers, but his unique compassion, humanism and wisdom in the face of relentless, unspeakable political horror makes him consistently engaging and intriguing. This collection should serve as both a summary and a point of entry for readers who wish to explore the shorter works of one of the finest international writers of his generation. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.