cover image The Miracle Game

The Miracle Game

Josef Skorvecky, Josef Skvorecky. Knopf Publishing Group, $22.95 (436pp) ISBN 978-0-394-57220-8

This big, lush political novel spans 20 years of recent Czech history, culminating in the Prague Spring and the Russian invasion of 1968. Shortly after the war, Danny Smiricky, the cynical hero of Skvorecky's novel The Engineer of Human Souls , is present--although dozing--in a rural Bohemian church when a statue of St. Joseph moves on its pedestal, seemingly of its own volition. The Catholic clergy call it a miracle, but the Communist secret police conduct their own investigation. Alleging that the event was a fraud, they torture and murder the attending priest. In the more liberal political climate of the late '60s, Smiricky sets out to help a crusading journalist solve the mystery; the novel is loosely structured as a detective story, complete with clues and false trails. But Smiricky's real role is devil's advocate, standing aside from the unfolding drama of modern history--he refers to himself as a ``Good Soldier Svejk''--in order to comment on it. As a writer of well-received operettas, Smiricky has special access to the intellectuals involved in the Prague Spring uprising, and he takes amusing, nasty jibes at the real participants. Czech President Havel becomes ``the world-famous playwright Hejl'' who is already organizing for his future political party; the writer Bohumil Hrabal, also portrayed in an unflattering light, has been transformed into the ``gifted non-party novelist Nabal''; etc. Skvorecky's ambitious attempt to capture the spirit and feel of this turbulent era makes for fascinating reading. (Feb.)