cover image The Republic of Whores: A Fragment from the Time of the Cults

The Republic of Whores: A Fragment from the Time of the Cults

Josef Skvorecky. Ecco Press, $21 (248pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-371-0

Skvorecky's raucous account of life on a Czech army base brings to mind Catch - 22 and proves that the black humor of enlisted men is nearly universal. Written in 1971, the novel, whose title refers to the state to which the Czechs sank under Soviet occupation, also has an anguished side. Set in the tumultuous 1950s, it details the rebellion of recruits who refuse to attend political indoctrination meetings and are bent on sabotaging their military exercises. Danny Smiricky, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy (and who has served as the author's alter-ego in several novels, including The Engineer of Human Souls ), proves a perfect foil for the microcosm of humanity that has washed up at the base. A tank commander, Smiricky is nearly through with his military service and seems unfazed by the mayhem going on around him. Though Smiricky is no saint--he sleeps with an officer's wife and goes AWOL in order to see his girlfriend in Prague--his behavior seems mild compared to the rambunctious prank-playing of the other recruits. The author pokes fun at everyone--the suspicious, often illiterate enlistees; Czech officers ludicrously bent on aping their Soviet superiors; the Soviet general who arrives to supervise military exercises and proceeds to get drunk--and this hilarious novel should appeal to a readership beyond the usual fans of Czech literature. (Aug.)