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The Engineer of Human Souls (Danny Smiřický)

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4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  612 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
The Engineer of Human Souls is a labyrinthine comic novel that investigates the journey and plight of novelist Danny Smiricky, a Czech immigrant to Canada. As the novel begins, he is a professor of American literature at a college in Toronto. Out of touch with his young students, and hounded by the Czech secret police, Danny is let loose to roam between past and present, a ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published February 28th 2000 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1977)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,551)
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[P]
Jul 14, 2016 [P] rated it it was amazing
I have long fantasised about leaving the UK, but it wasn’t until recently that I seriously considered the prospect. Indeed, a couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Prague, my favourite city, in order to feel the place as someone looking to live there [which obviously involves a different mind-set from that of someone going there on holiday]. To this end, I made an effort to speak to locals, of course, but focussed my attention on those who had moved from elsewhere. As you would expect, there is a ...more
MJ Nicholls
A whirling epic from a master-in-pieces: a piece of wartime life manufacturing messerschmitts; a piece of life in Canadian exile as a professor teaching a cast of oddballs about Poe, Conrad, Lovecraft, and co; a piece of life hobnobbing with the spooked and strange émigré community; a piece of life in love with village girls and Scandinavian students; a piece of epistles of other lives in pieces; a piece of mind and no peace in mind. Ladies: let this man’s splendid arms wrap themselves around yo ...more
Hugh
This is a book I have not read for many years, but since it does not have many reviews here, I'd like to add a few words. It is a magnificent novel - complex, readable, nostalgic, irreverent and often funny. Like several of Škvorecký's other books, it is partly a semi-autobiographical rites of passage story about the life of Danny, a young teacher in post-war Czechoslovakia, this one is also partly about his later life in exile in Canada.
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I actually approached this book with trepidation. It is thick, with almost six hundred pages of the usual hardbound size book. The title is imposing, the author's name has the same foreboding sound as that of Kafka, the cover shows a typewriter with a sheet of paper flying upwards off it stair-like, with a blurb by Milan Kundera ("Magnificent! A magnum opus!") who is himself not easy to understand.

It turned out to be a delightful read, Czechoslovakia's answer to Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in
...more
Angela
Jan 19, 2009 Angela rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Lorrie Moore, Viktor Pelevin, and Ivan Klima
Shelves: czech
"The Engineer of Human Souls" is a 20th century Czech novel and like every obediently disobedient 20th century Czech novel, it tells the story of a dissident male writer in trouble with his government for reasons that seem especially hazy in light of his more pressing preoccupation with philandering. With the surrounding political turmoil, meaning is extracted from love and art.

Dan Smiricky is a Canadian English professor and Bohemian exile from Kostelec. He goes about life teaching literature t
...more
Ints
May 23, 2015 Ints rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Daniels Smiržičkis ir čehu emigrants Kanādā. Viņš ir literatūras profesors Toronto koledžā, viņš mēģina vietējai jaunatnei iedzīt galvā literatūras kritikas pamatus. Cenšas pastāstīt viņiem, kādēļ to dzīves uztvere īsti neatbilst realitātei, sevišķi, kad runa ir par sociālistiskā bloka valstīm. Vakarus viņš vada citu trimdinieku sabiedrībā, kur daļa cenšas saglabāt čehu kultūru, daļa sapņo par valdošās iekārtas gāšanu un citi vienkārši veido jaunu dzīvi. Visa grāmata paiet klejojot starp pagātni ...more
Mairita
Jun 11, 2015 Mairita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nopietns, intelektuāls romāns ar parupju vārdu piešprici. Vietām traģikomisks, vietām skumjš un apslēptu šausmu pilns. Stāstu lupatu deķis par veselu laikmetu.
Pilnā atsauksme: https://gramatas.wordpress.com/2015/0...
Jan jr. Vaněk
Sep 01, 2010 Jan jr. Vaněk rated it it was amazing
THE Great Czechoslovak Novel. Made me cry when I read it at 16, and it still does. Also laugh wildly, and think a lot.
Bill
Aug 31, 2007 Bill rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
Skvorecky, a Czech emigre who left his native land for Canada after the Soviet put down of the Prague Spring, and with Milan Kundera and Bohumil Hrabal is one of that nation's great writers has really written two books here. In the book's dual plots - Professor Danny Smiricky looks back at his young wartime adventures while negotiating tenure and academic politics at a Toronto university - he manages both to capture the transition from young adulthood to adulthood and adulthood into old age.

If
...more
Ian Robb
Sep 16, 2012 Ian Robb rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. It is one of those books that I did not want to finish.
Ronald Morton
We live in a world of absurd circumstances, accidental, perhaps the unfathomable caprices of a cruelly jesting God
I find that there is potentially a lot to say about this book, but, at the same time, in its straightforwardness, there might not be much that is necessary.


The book is centered around Czech exile Danny Smiricky, a literature professor living in Canada in the 1970’s. The book alternates between scenes from Danny’s youth living in Czechoslovakia – both during World War II and the Co
...more
Bruce
Nov 25, 2012 Bruce rated it it was ok
This book disappointed me. I probably went in with too high expectations, given the bombastic language from the reviewers plastered all over the cover, suggesting that it was one of the best novels of the past few decades.

You've already seen the plot summary in other reviews. The book is punctuated by a half dozen chapters, each named after a major writer. But each of those chapters only deals loosely with that writer, usually through references to the college course taught by the semi-autobiog
...more
Juliet Wilson
Jun 25, 2009 Juliet Wilson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
I first read this book 20 years ago when I was living in Malawi. It was someone elses copy so I left it over there not realising it would take me 20 years to find another copy....

It's a wonderful book, focussing on the lives of Czech emigrants in Canada, flicking back and forth between their life there and their earlier lives in Czechslovakia.

It's thought provoking and entertaining, and well worth reading a second time...
Esthy
Feb 15, 2015 Esthy rated it it was amazing
After reading The Miracle Game (more adventures of Danny Smiricky!) I was extremely happy to see that The Engineer of Human Souls is nearly 600 pages. Awesome, a good thing that won't end too soon. And this is really good, brilliant. Like an I.B. Singer novel on steroids. It's dark in the sense that anything that stems from life in the Eastern Block usually is, but the element of black humor/absurdity made this book difficult to put down. It's truly a literary treat.
Stacy
I really don't know what to say about this book. The Engineer of Human Souls was an interesting and yet confusing book. Honestly, I'm not sure I understand everything that happened in this tale of a Czech immigrant now living in Canada. The story jumps around frequently and requires the utmost concentration. Character's names change and/or overlap at times. It is almost like reading somebody's journal but with the pages all out of order. The stories are interesting, though at times, like in a jo ...more
Jim Golmon
Oct 02, 2015 Jim Golmon rated it it was amazing
A terrific book by a Czech writer who emigrated to Canada after the 1968 Soviet invasion. Probably somewhat autobiographical. I didn't want this book to end. Not an easy read. Much detail, and many characters. Its full of life details on the Nazi occupation during World War II and elements of resistance to that, the fear of the state and informers during the Soviet era, and the brief blossoming of hope before the 1968 invasion. Also full of literary gems as the protagonist ends up as an English ...more
Vasha7
Nov 25, 2011 Vasha7 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A description of this novel can give some idea of the various materials it's woven together from, but won't mention any of the large gallery of riotous, pathetic, human characters. Any book as full as this one -- telling only part of the protagonist's life but suggesting that there's much more; moving through three or more levels of time at once; incorporating the letters of many characters in a way that never feels irrelevant; including, as well, the reading of American literature, illuminated ...more
Vilis
Mar 28, 2015 Vilis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dzīvesstāstu lupatu deķis no abām čehu zemes okupācijām un trimdinieku gaitām Kanādā, ar brīvu lēkāšanu starp velnsviņzin cik stāstiem. Brīžiem viss nojūk, bet lielākoties individuālie gabali ir gana interesanti, lai gandrīz ar nerūkstošu interesi izlasītu visas 900 latviešu izdevumā lappuses un nodomātu "hmm, ja pagadīsies rokās vēl kāds Škvoreckis, labprāt izcirtīšu cauri".
Sarah
May 20, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
If Milan Kundera had gotten together with Orhan Pamuk to rewrite Snow with more of a postmodern flourish...Toss in 'the immigrant experience' and a dash of post-war paranoia, and we're getting close to this book. Absolutely loved the lit-classroom dialogues on literature and politics and the accompanying allusions and metaphors. I wasn't in love with his prose, however, as it was burdened from time to time (and time again) with cliche. Still a rich and resounding read.
Jason
Aug 16, 2016 Jason rated it it was amazing
This recent (really actually appallingly belated) discovery of Josef Škvorecký is a no-shit large-scale revelation. In my salad days as naive prospective academician, I studied the culture of that fateful Czech moment - the spring that went sour in '68. Škvorecký was expatriated by, ultimately, the souring. He wound up in Canada, my home country, and wrote and taught in Toronto. The Engineer of Human Souls is a monumental twentieth century reckoning. It's subject is life, but its scope makes it ...more
Bob
May 14, 2009 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-literature
We rejoin Danny Smiricky (from THE COWARDS), as an expatriate professor in Toronto, where he explores his present life of pretty student, and Czech secret agents, as well as some of the unresolved stories of his past during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II.
Jonfaith
Sep 28, 2011 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
A swelerting summer delivered me into contact with this tome, in fact I bought it in Bloomington and then collpased into it, the parallel gravity of its temportal tracks swept me along. Sadly, I haven't been able to replicate the effect with other works by Skvorecky.
Dyani
Jul 12, 2007 Dyani rated it it was amazing
Sublime, hilarious, long (but worth it), perhaps sentimental, saying orginal things about religion, playing with time, inimitable character, I wrote my thesis on it.
Maggie Stewart-Grant
I can say no more just now but that this book is excellent. For people like me, I highly recommend it. I will do an extended review at a later date.
Lucie Novak
Jun 19, 2014 Lucie Novak rated it it was amazing
If you want to read about the Czech post war history- at home and in exile, read this. A great book.Full of humanity. Canadians will like it, too.
Madziar
Feb 23, 2015 Madziar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Daniel Smirzicky jest wykładowcą literatury na uniwersytecie w Toronto. Pochodzi z Kostelca i obraca się w kolorowym gronie czeskich emigrantów - ludzi, których wspólnym mianownikiem jest wyłącznie nowa ojczyzna. Po sposobie, w jaki ich traktuje, łatwo można zgadnąć, jak bardzo jest samotny - jego obecne życie wkroczyło w stadium, gdy nadmiar doświadczenia utrudnia lub wręcz uniemożliwia komunikowanie się - i z tymi młodszymi (grupka zachodnich studentów), i ze starszymi (niekompatybilnie poskła ...more
Russell
Dec 08, 2011 Russell rated it it was amazing
Brilliant book...
Dan
Jul 26, 2015 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Described as one of the great Czechoslovakian novels of the Cold War era, this layered novel tells the story of main character Danny in a great number of parallel time frames, mostly flipping between WWII-era flashbacks and the 1970s main story. It's dense but rewarding, and it provides a window into Czechoslovakian history that I was quite ignorant toward.

The novel has a lot of literary elements — about once a chapter, I felt I was missing an important reference or name — but there are times wh
...more
Czarny Pies
Apr 19, 2015 Czarny Pies rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: czech-lit
Czech émigré Josopeh Skvorecky is one of my favorite writers. Skvorecky is a master at describing what communism is like without demonizing its opportunistic supporters in his home country.

I can think of no one else who is better than Skvorecky at describing the environment in Toronto during the seventies and eighties. During this time one met central Europeans everywhere: at work, in my neighbourhood and at all levels of schooling. They all lived through the experiences described by Skvorecky i
...more
Czarny Pies
Apr 19, 2015 Czarny Pies rated it it was amazing
Czech émigré Josopeh Skvorecky is one of my favorite writers. Skvorecky is a master at describing what communism is like without demonizing its opportunistic supporters in his home country.

I can think of no one else who is better than Skvorecky at describing the environment in Toronto during the seventies and eighties. During this time one met central Europeans everywhere: at work, in my neighbourhood and at all levels of schooling. They all lived through the experiences described by Skvorecky i
...more
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Josef Škvorecký, CM was a Czech writer and publisher who spent much of his life in Canada. Škvorecký was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1980. He and his wife were long-time supporters of Czech dissident writers before the fall of communism in that country. By turns humorous, wise, eloquent and humanistic, Škvorecký's fiction deals with several themes: the horrors of tot ...more
More about Josef Škvorecký...

Other Books in the Series

Danny Smiřický (6 books)
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“We may think we live for wisdom, but in fact we're living for the the pleasure wisdom brings us.” 16 likes
“There is beauty everywhere on earth, but there is greater beauty in those places where one feels that sense of ease which comes from no longer having to put off one’s dreams until some improbable future – a future inexorably shrinking away; where the fear that has pervaded one’s life suddenly vanishes because there is... nothing to be afraid of.” 2 likes
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