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 The first English translation of an early (195456) episodic novel by the Czechoslovakian-born author of The Engineer of Human Souls (1984) and other chronicles of cultural dislocation and exile. In ten vignettes, Danny Smiick, an apolitical young jazz musician (and the protagonist of the above-mentioned novel and of several other kvoreck titles) reminisces in diffuse fashion about his experiences and friendships in and around Prague in the immediate postwar, post-Stalinist period. Among other embattled souls, there's a newspaperwoman (``Madam Editor'') whose hatred of ``Bolshevism'' altered under the pressure of practical considerations; an anticommunist judge who joined the Party in order to subvert its principles; and a gorgeous teenager (``Little Mata Hari of Prague'') who may have masqueraded as a double agent. And in the final chapter, Danny weakly declares his wavering allegiance to ``socialism'' to a friend who offers to get him out of the country and to safety in the West. None of these characters is drawn with great vividness, nor do any of the opinions held or debated seem especially forceful. It's all communicated with a kind of whimsical Vonnegut-like indifference, expressed in exasperatingly digressive conversational asides, and in such shamelessly padded temporizing as the following three paragraphs (with which kvoreck begins a chapter): ``When you play the tenor sax, sooner or later you ask yourself the question./What's it really for and why and so forth and so on./Life, that is.'' There's a scattering of appreciative talk about jazz, but we otherwise learn little about this wan character, other than that he simply desires to be left alone and not risk the complications besetting people who engage life more directly. ``I don't want to get involved,'' Danny Smiick explains. Neither will most readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1997
ISBN: 0-88001-461-X
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996


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