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Josef Škvorecký: Mirákl (The Miracle Game)

We are back again with Danny Smiricky, whom we first met in The Cowards and whom we will see later in The Engineer of Human Souls. It is 1948 and Danny is teaching at a Catholic girls school in Czechoslovakia. He is, of course, feeling horny, tantalized by the breasts of one of his students, and has a dose of gonorrhea. He then witnesses a miracle – a statue of St. Joseph bows his head. But the Communists are having none of it and they are able to”prove” that the priest fixed it (they may be right). The priest pays for it with his life. But the townspeople still believe a miracle has happened. Most of the novel is a flashback from twenty years later – 1968 and the Prague spring – and Danny is still fascinated by the miracle. Was it a miracle? Did the priest make the statue move? Did the police do so, to discredit the priest?

But it is 1968 and far more important things are happening and Danny, now a writer, looks at 1968 but also back to that time in 1948 and, indeed, to the German occupation in 1944. As this is Škvorecký, he mildly mocks everyone – not just the Nazis and died-in-the-wool Communists but also the liberal intellectuals, permanently squabbling and even Dubček and Václav Havel (called only the world-famous playwright). But even Škvorecký has to get serious when the Russians invade, even though Danny only sees it as he tries to rescue a manuscript from the publishers which could get him shot. Parallelled with the story of the Russian invasion is the story of Mr. Kohn, a Czech Jew, and his fortuitous escape from Prague after the invasion of the Nazis, aided by a top Nazi.

So are there miracles or do we make our own miracles? This is the basis of Škvorecký’s novel written, don’t forget, just four years after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. His country is firmly under Soviet control. Dubček has gone. Hável’s time, at least as a politician, has not yet come. Miracles? I don’t think so. If he takes anything seriously, apart from sex, it is his own country and that is what this novel is about.

Publishing history

First published in Czech by Sixty-Eight Publishers, Toronto 1972
First published in English by Lester & Orpen Dennys 1990
Translated by Paul Wilson