(11/19/2014) Headed For The Blues: A Memoir by Josef Skvorecky. Hopewell. 1996. Ecco Press. hardcover. 176 pages. Translated from the Czech by Kaca Polackova Henley. keywords: Literature Translated Czech Eastern Europe Autobiography. 0880014628.


   Jazz, politics, sex, fear, and the humor necessary to survive absurdity provide the backdrop as Skvorecky seamlessly interweaves his own story with those of his friends; particularly that of his childhood friend Prema, whose life stands in stark contrast to Skvorecky's own. Forced to flee the country shortly after the end of World War II for illegally broadcasting from a stolen transmitter, Prema embarks on an itinerant life, wandering as far as Australia, occasionally dropping Skvorecky 'Dear Old Buddy' postcards reporting on a life robbed of its home and its promise. Headed for the Blues recounts Czechoslovakia's evolution from Nazi rule to Soviet-dominated communism, from the age of the 'exhausted executioners' ('there were so many executions the Ministry asked them to slow down, the executioners are exhausted') to the age of those petty agents of the secret police called fizls ('rhymes with weasels'), a time when friends and neighbors - even family members - informed on one another. As a culture of fear and mistrust grew in the country, the lives of its people were heedlessly tossed about by the winds of politics. Throughout the book there are fascinating digressions on the subject of writing from a master of twentieth-century literature. Skvorecky discusses his own novels, the works of others, the process of writing, and the differences between real life and his highly autobiographical fiction.

Josef Škvorecký (September 27, 1924 – January 3, 2012) was a Czech-Canadian writer and publisher who spent much of his life in Canada. SKVORECKY was born in Bohemia, emigrated to Canada in 1968, and was for many years a professor of English at Erindale College, University of Toronto. He and his wife, the novelist Zdena Salivarova, ran a Czech-language publishing house, Sixty-Eight Publishers, in Toronto, and were long-time supporters of Czech dissident writers before the fall of communism in that country. Skvorecky’s novels include THE COWARDS, MISS SILVER’S PAST, THE BASS SAXOPHONE, THE ENGINEER OF HUMAN SOULS, and DVORAK IN LOVE. He was the winner of the 1980 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1984 Governor General’s Award for fiction in Canada. Škvorecký's fiction deals with several themes: the horrors of totalitarianism and repression, the expatriate experience, and the miracle of jazz.



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