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Deep down

Julian Symons, 28 June 1990

The Last World 
by Christoph Ransmayr, translated by John Woods.
Chatto, 202 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7011 3502 6
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The End of Lieutenant Boruvka 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul Wilson.
Faber, 188 pp., £12.99, May 1990, 0 571 14973 1
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The Dwarves of Death 
by Jonathan Coe.
Fourth Estate, 198 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 1 872180 51 5
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Last Loves 
by Alan Sillitoe.
Grafton, 190 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 333 51783 0
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... what you see is all you get. Christoph Ransmayr has been blessed with a sympathetic translator, Josef Skvorecky cursed with an inadequate one whose name, perhaps by merciful intention, has been left off the title page. Skvorecky’s Lieutenant Boruvka is something like a Czech counterpart of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s ...

How many nipples had Graham Greene?

Colm Tóibín, 9 June 1994

... looking for quotes for books they were about to publish. Authors wrote. In 1973 Greene wrote to Josef Skvorecky: ‘Your letters reach the length of a book by this time ... I feel sad that you are wasting such good material on me, but if you ever come to write about these events I can always send you the letters back.’ He did not, in general, waste ...

Here in Canada

D.A.N. Jones, 21 March 1985

The Engineer of Human Souls 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 571 pp., £9.95, February 1985, 9780701129316
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The Governess 
by Patricia Angadi.
Gollancz, 181 pp., £8.95, February 1985, 0 575 03485 8
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The Anderson Question 
by Bel Mooney.
Hamish Hamilton, 185 pp., £8.95, March 1985, 9780241114568
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The Centre of the Universe is 18 Baedekerstrasse 
by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy.
Hamish Hamilton, 199 pp., £8.95, March 1985, 0 241 11492 6
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... Josef Skvorecky left Czechoslovakia in 1968 and is now Professor of English at Erindale College in Canada. His new novel is about a Czech called Danny Smiricky who also emigrated to Canada in 1968 and who has become Professor of American Literature at Edenvale College. The invented name, ‘Edenvale’, illustrates Smiricky’s mixed feelings about his academic life in Canada: it might seem idyllic, paradisal, to a Czech who spent his youth under the Nazis and then the Communists, but he often catches himself thinking that his students and fellow teachers are too innocent, like Adam before the Fall, too naive, too credulous ...


Nicholas Spice, 6 November 1986

Roger’s Version 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 316 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 233 97988 3
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The Voyeur 
by Alberto Moravia, translated by Tim Parks.
Secker, 186 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 436 28721 8
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Dvorak in Love 
by Josef Skvorecky, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 322 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 7011 2994 8
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Moments of Reprieve 
by Primo Levi, translated by Ruth Feldman.
Joseph, 172 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2726 9
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... Around the figure of the battered baby the rest of Roger’s Version falls into place. As I read Josef Skvorecky’s new novel, it occurred to me that, however else one might characterise Roger Lambert’s version of the world, nothing would be more appropriate than to say of it, adapting Berryman, that it was ‘horribly unlike Dvořák’. For, like ...

Keep squeezing

Sam Sacks: Ma Jian, 26 September 2013

The Dark Road 
by Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew.
Chatto, 360 pp., £16.99, April 2013, 978 0 7011 8753 8
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... is more real than life itself.’ Broadly in the vein of works by Eastern Bloc dissidents like Josef Skvorecky and Vladimir Voinovich, it tells of a man who’s found success as a professional blood donor and a three-legged dog that sententiously lectures humans on their bestial behaviour, among other absurd figures. Because its arguments tend to be ...

Ariel goes to the police

Karl Miller, 4 December 1986

Life is elsewhere 
by Milan Kundera, translated by Peter Kussi.
Faber, 311 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 571 14560 4
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My First Loves 
by Ivan Klima, translated by Ewald Oser.
Chatto, 164 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 7011 3014 8
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... men, Czechoslovakia is both painful and blissful. It is not surprising that the Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky should be keen on My First Loves. Skvorecky left his country to teach in North America – as did the Dubcekite Klima – and has improved the shining hours of a Canadian exile. But Klima has gone back. It ...

Bohumil Hrabal

James Wood: The life, times, letters and politics of Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, 4 January 2001

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Harvill, 103 pp., £6.99, May 1998, 1 86046 215 4
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Too Loud a Solitude 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Abacus, 112 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 349 10262 7
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I Served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Picador, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 330 30876 9
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Closely Observed Trains 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Edith Partiger.
Abacus, 128 pp., £5.99, May 1990, 0 349 10125 6
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Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by James Naughton.
Twisted Spoon Press, 203 pp., $13.50, June 1998, 80 902171 9 2
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... for publication. Instead, he read them aloud to the group’s members (who included the novelist Josef Skvorecky). The tale is told – it is rather like those ‘symbolic’ stories about rulers that were collected by Tacitus and Plutarch – that one day Hrabal overheard Kolar, who was selling dolls at the time, being asked: ‘Kolar, do you have ...

Philip Roth talks about his work

Philip Roth, 5 March 1987

... of everything in a society where freedom of expression is anything but compressed.The Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who now lives in Toronto, has said: ‘To be a bad writer in Eastern Europe, you really have to be bad.’ He means that in those countries the political origins of their suffering are plainly visible in everyday life and the predicament is ...

Goofing Off

Michael Hofmann: Hrabal’s Categories, 21 July 2022

All My Cats 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Penguin, 96 pp., £7.99, August 2020, 978 0 241 42219 9
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... appeared in censored versions, others were smuggled out to émigré publishers abroad (notably, to Josef Škvorecký’s 68 Publishers in Toronto). Now they have come full-circle, and many of them are published by English-language publishers in Prague. It’s hard to think of another writer so unconventionally formed, so rebelliously syncopated, so ...


Nicholas Spice, 6 July 1995

Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording and its Effects on Music 
by Michael Chanan.
Verso, 204 pp., £39.95, May 1995, 1 85984 012 4
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Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak Easy Listening and other Moodsong 
by Joseph Lanza.
Quartet, 280 pp., £10, January 1995, 0 7043 0226 8
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... a cor anglais is singing above muted strings. This tender melody reminds me of a mawkish novel by Josef Skvorecky. The details elude me, but I fancy Dvořák in Love to have been a soft-focus, rural idyll, and I fall to imagining a red sun rising behind a field of gently rippling Bohemian corn, and, beyond it, a girl in a dirndl beckoning ...


D.A.N. Jones, 21 November 1985

The Prague Orgy 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 89 pp., £5.95, October 1985, 0 224 02815 4
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by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 378 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 7011 2843 7
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Cousin Rosamund 
by Rebecca West.
Macmillan, 295 pp., £9.95, October 1985, 0 333 39797 5
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The Battle of Pollocks Crossing 
by J.L. Carr.
Viking, 176 pp., £8.95, May 1985, 0 670 80559 9
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The Bone People 
by Keri Hulme.
Hodder, 450 pp., £9.95, July 1985, 0 340 37024 6
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... write, says Novak. The points made in this terse, deft and witty story will remind some readers of Josef Skvorecky’s long, complicated novel, The Engineer of Human Souls. The time-serving Novak Senior is like Lojza in Skvorecky’s book and Olga, eager to get to the States through marriage, is like ...

Stalin is a joker

Michael Hofmann: Milan Kundera, 2 July 2015

The Festival of Insignificance 
by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher.
Faber, 115 pp., £14.99, June 2015, 978 0 571 31646 5
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... makes everything else possible. Kundera started out as a Czech humourist of the leaner sort (not a Skvorecky, not a bonhomous Hrabal), and the contradictory economics of the joker – the cut-to-the-chase of the set-up, the delay of digressiveness – have stayed with him. You slow down from time to time, but always on his terms; generally, the pace is ...

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