Lorenzo Berardi's Reviews > The Cowards

The Cowards by Josef Škvorecký
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Sep 18, 11

bookshelves: czech, 2011, a-my-english-library
Read from July 13 to September 18, 2011

Oh well, it seems like after being done with Czechoslovakia as seen by Marius S. I had to go straight to a Czech novel wrote by an author mentioned several times in Gottland.
But this is just a coincidence. For The Cowards was already with me for a few months.

This novel is written in a very impulsive and passionate style with that sort of boyish impetuosity which is explained by the fact Skvorecky was only 24 when he delivered it. The fact that it took 12 years more for this novel to get published just in time for being immediately banned takes us back to what Czechoslovakia used to be: a country of obnoxious and obsessive censorship.
Quoting Gottland this was a nation «where planes cannot fall down».

And perhaps reassured by the fact that a plane couldn't fall over Prague, Josef Skvorecky himself fled to Canada in the early 1970s leaving his homecountry behind. This decision he took was not an act of cowardice but in fact quite the opposite. While abroad, Skvorecky became a publisher of Czechoslovakian books banned by the communit regime and an opinion leader for all the Czech and Slovakian dissidents and ex-pats. He kept on writing novels too.

That said, who are The Cowards here?

Not the main narrator, the youngster Danny Smiřický and his friends playing in a jazz band and dreaming of New Orleans rather than Prague. Jazz music and Satchmo Armstrong for them may certainly look like mere escapism from the daily trouble of a Nazi occupation but are also a sort of moral and cultural resistance to any restriction given by the occupants.
Danny and his band are waiting for something to happen in their sleepy Bohemian town, but at the same time they wish to take part in that something which many around them call "the Revolution".
Unfortunately, Danny & company are stepped over by history and politics, despite themselves.

Perhaps the cowards are the German forces running away from Bohemia when hearing about the Russians advancing from eastern front?
Or maybe these cowards are the local "revolutionary people" jumping out of the frying pan to fall into fire without even noticing it? And what about the Russians looting a whole country that addressed them as liberators?
Personally, I think that Skvorecky left this question unanswered on purpose. As for him, the Nazi occupation, the "socialist" liberation and the institution of a communist regime are all farce wrapped up in different flags, uniforms and anthems.

The reason why it took me that long to review this book is very easy:
it was surprisingly hard reaching the end of The Cowards. And I cannot really say why it took that long as this novel deals with topics I was interested in.
It could be that The Cowards insists a bit too much on dialogues among its characters rather than going straight to the point and this led me to get distracted quite often.
Borrowing a jazzy metaphor, I would say that Skvorecky played a notable jam session of a book, but could have made it even better with less solos from its favourite instruments.

Nevertheless, this novel deserves to be recorded. And I will come back to its tracks.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Cowards.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.