Two murders. Two crimes. Two worlds, interlocked. The husband of a math professor at a fictional Mississauga college is found murdered in his home on a stormy night straight out of stock horror-movie footage. The only clues: a piece of broken-off nail polish and a button ripped from a Harris tweed jacket. Meanwhile, the wife of an American Lit prof at the same campus slowly drinks herself to death after being outed as a collaborator under Czechoslovakia's former Communist regime. The first death serves as the premise of an entertaining, highly literary whodunit, which makes up half of Two Murders in My Double Life
, Czech émigré Josef Skvorecky's first novel written in English. The tragic events of the second death, though, are told as old-fashioned realism, although North American readers not versed in the absurdities of Communism may find them surreal.
The link between the two stories is Skvorecky's fictional alter ego, Smiricky, the professor of American detective fiction whose wife, Sidonia, has been accused of collaboration. Smiricky hones his sleuthing skills as he observes the hunt for the murderer, which implicates a cast of characters out of an Agatha Christie novel, among them a descendant of Salem witch-burners, a scheming rich beauty, a rising math star, and a weight-obsessed policewoman. At the same time, though, he can only watch helplessly (and guiltily, when he realizes he was the unwitting catalyst in the ploy to coerce his wife into spying) as Sidonia, decorated for her tireless efforts in publishing émigré and banned books, is made a scapegoat by true criminals attempting to divert public attention from their own pasts. She is the victim of an "assassination of the soul," perpetrated by a regime whose tentacles reach beyond its national borders, even beyond its unnatural life.
As in his masterpieces, The Cowards and The Engineer of Human Souls, Skvorecky uses reality as inspiration to create a fictional world where the comic and the serious collide. The novel is a hilarious satire of Canadian academe plagued by petty professional rivalries and political correctness, a searing indictment of post-Communist political practices, and a bittersweet tragedy of the past's unrelenting grip on the present. --Diana Kuprel
From Publishers Weekly
Skvorecky left his native Czechoslovakia in 1969 in the wake of the Soviet invasion and has been living in Canadian exile ever since. For the last 30 years, he has published copiously in Czech and has fared well in English translation (The Cowards; The Engineer of Human Souls; etc.). Now in his 70s, he has written his first book in English an intermittently eloquent if not entirely persuasive fiction, part murder mystery and part campus novel. The protagonist is an unnamed Skvorecky-like professor in Canadian exile, whose wife, Sidonia, a writer and editor, is being cruelly slandered in the Czech Republic by resentful postcommunist climbers. Meanwhile, life on the Toronto campus is disrupted by an unlikely murder. Two radically dissimilar worlds are here juxtaposed and interwoven: Central Europe, with its ferociously bitter animosities and treacheries left over from the Soviet era; and bland, tidy, middle-class Canada. The account of the relentless hounding of Sidonia and her bitter end is almost unbearably poignant, but the dull mystery story does not hold up its end of the bargain. In addition, Skvorecky has perhaps gotten carried away with the mimicry of spoken English. He has the non-native speaker's joyful enthusiasm for the little quirks that make English idiomatic, but the impression created by the text is not one of authentic talk so much as relentless chatter. Still, the novel is notable for its evocation of the professor's enduring love and respect for his brilliant, long-suffering wife. (May)Forecast: Skvorecky treads familiar ground in his latest novel, but it's being written in English may spark more reviews than usual. A charming photograph of the author and his wife in their youth on the jacket may attract browsers.
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