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Josef Skvorecky

January 16th, 2012 - 5:38 pm

There is much more to Skvorecky, who created a Czech detective, a lovable overweight schlemiel named Lt. Boruvka.  Let’s just say he’s no Sherlock Holmes, but he knows how to investigate murders, and he gets his man — and even his woman, on a lucky day — more often than not, and in the process tells us a lot about Communist bureaucracy in the late stages of the failure of the Soviet system.

And then there’s his little contribution to the Baker Street Irregulars, that international association of Sherlock lovers.  Father Knox, a brilliant Catholic theologian best known for a very important book on “Enthusiasm,” was also a member, and authored the basic rules — the “ten commandments” — for murder mysteries, which included things like the limits on false identities, secret passageways, and the like.  So Skovrercky, with his delightful wit and playful mind, wrote Sins for Father Knox, a collection of short stories in each of which at least one of Father Knox’s commandments is violated.  Skovercky can’t resist taunting the reader, every so often sticking in a little italicized line saying something like “by now you should have figured out which rule has been broken,” heh.

Finally, there’s his legacy, which extends well beyond his books.  He had a radio show on VOA,  and it consisted of him reading the classics of Czech literature.  Just that.  No thumb sucking, no commentary, just the literature.

Shortly after the wall came down, I visited Prague and asked a professor at the university about Skovercky.  “He saved the Czech language with his radio show,” the prof said.  “Under Communism, public language degenerated, and words simply disappeared, or changed their meanings.  He reminded us what the language really was.”

We could do with that ourselves.  Meanwhile, take the time to read some of this great man’s works; he really was a wonder.

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