By the time he was 45 years old, the Czech novelist Josef Skvorecky had survived a dizzying succession of political systems: Masaryk’s democratic republic, the Nazi protectorate, the postwar social democratic republic, Stalinist rule after the 1948 coup, the humanist socialism of Dubcek’s Spring, and finally, in the weeks before his exile in 1969, Soviet occupation. His most recent novel, The Engineer of Human Souls, is something of a guided tour through the chaos of 20th-century European political history. For that reason alone it’s a remarkable book. Skvorecky abandons chronological narrative for a crazy quilt of scenes and events from four decades and several continents tumbled upon each other. We begin at the Uni...
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