by Josef Skvorecky ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 4, 1990
Masterful Czech novelist Skvorecky, who's recently been marking time with detective stories about Lt. Boruvka and Eve Adam, uses mystery elements to enrich the triumphantly comic vein of The Engineer of Lost Souls (1984) by resurrecting his earlier surrogate-hero, dissident novelist/satyr Daniel Smiricky, as the witness, and later the investigator, of a disputed miracle. A rendezvous with his importunate student Vlasta Koziskova (""Vixi"") of the Hronov Health and Social Workers' School, who wants to repent their tryst the night before, brings Danny to an isolated chapel for Father Joseph Doufal's sermon--memorably interrupted when a statue of St. Joseph mysteriously tilts forward. Though Danny denies having seen anything, Vixi and other witnesses spread the word, and a full-scale investigation soon pits Father Doufal, who calls the motion a miracle, against the local Communist worthies, who arrest and torture him, leaving him to die. Twenty years later, during the Prague Spring of 1968, the case is reopened, and a series of flashbacks mingle Danny's overheated 1949 memories with his present-day investigations-run-ins with his old colleagues at Hronov (including Vixi herself): discussions about a film showing Father Doufal faking the miracle; close examination of the physical evidence (was the statue really moved by all those cumbersome pulleys, or by an electromagnet? and was it really the statue of St. Joseph, or of the Virgin, that moved?)-and unforgettable vignettes of the intoxicating surprises of life under the Dubcek regime. There's an unlikely tour of a jazz band, a madly funny writers' convention, a hundred snapshots of bureaucrats and hangers-on twisting to right themselves in each new political breeze--all of which produce a kaleidoscopic portrait of a people constantly attesting to the miracles they can't accept. Skvorecky provides a rational answer to the mystery (culprits, motives, methods) but keeps a sense of the miraculous to the very end of this imposingly giddy, deeply serious farce.
Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1990
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1990
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