Dozing in the chapel of the Virgin Mary under Mare’s Head Hill Smiricky misses a miracle during
A wooden statute of Mass. , the father of Jesus, bows to the congregation. Local Communist authorities denounce and torture the parish priest and offer proof it was a hoax but there is evidence the Communists manufactured the evidence. Subsequently, there is evidence, also challenged, that the national secret police had set out to create a false miracle to discredit the Catholic Church. The plot periodically returns to the unconventional mystery. Was there a modern miracle or was the bowing faked? St. Joseph
The primary focus of the book is Smiricky’s life journey through the perils of Communist Czechoslovakia. The story abruptly shifts between the late 1940’s and the excitement of the reforms in the spring of 1968. Adding to the complexity are reminiscences going back into the Nazi years and forward into the 1950’s. The author’s skill makes it work but a reader must stay concentrated to follow the plot.
Smiricky is a skilled observer of his society. He carefully lives neither openly defiant nor totally submissive to the state. He writes operettas that do not offend the authorities. All words and actions are governed by what will be the reaction of the authorities. Every aspect of life is governed by Marxist dogma and analysis. He is a non-believer in any faith or ideology or philosophy. Would any of us be braver in the midst of tyranny? I doubt I would have had the courage to protest.
There are wonderful comic episodes describing the bizarre events that arise from the authorities applying political analysis to everything. To cope the people engage in devious subversions. The oral final examinations of the senior girl students descend into the absurd when the girls parrot answers on Social Welfare under Feudalism because the state has provided no text for the course. The examiners anticipate approved answers but are getting disturbed when girl after girl gives identically worded answers. Before the examiners can address the obviously rehearsed answers their focus is diverted by huge quantities of delicious food and powerful drinks served by the most beautiful graduates.
Plays are removed from a theatre repertoire because of inappropriate audience reaction to the plays. The audiences had not responded properly based on Marxist – Leninist principles.
Meetings assess what musical instruments can be played by considering whether the instruments conform with Communist principles. The saxophone is out of favour because it has a "hybrid, comospolitan, and decadent timbre". The violincello is suitable.
In his personal life he moves from affair to affair never committing to a relationship. He respects women and is far from celibate but he lives alone.
As the book moves through Prague Spring there is genuine uncertainty within the population on whether the giant to the East will tolerate this new Communism swiftly moving away from the traditional Soviet model.
My reading of the book was shaped by the book being written shortly after the Prague Spring of 1968 and translated during the collapse of Eastern European communism at the end of the 1980’s. As I read the book I kept thinking of those historical events. It is not an easy read.
It is a thoughtful book well worth reading. I thank Kerrie for the Crime Fiction on a
I would not have read the book but for the meme. Euro Pass.
On Tuesday I will add a further post related to The Miracle Game in which I discuss the process of book analysis in Communist times versus the book review blogs of today. (Sept. 10/11)