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Miss Silver's Past (Picador Books) [Paperback]

Josef Skvorecky , P. Kussi
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

11 July 1980 Picador Books
Karl Leden works in the State publishing house in Prague. His work becomes complicated by the arrival of the Lenka Silver, and the reproaches of his ex-girlfriend, Vera. When a murder occurs, there are plenty of suspects - but the event is most definitely linked to Miss Silver's past.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 251 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; New edition edition (11 July 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330260987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330260985
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.2 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,659,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Sckoverecky takes the central theme of a young editor's infatuation with the beautiful and mysterious Lenka Silver and takes us on a thrilling ride through Stalinist-era Prague, where toeing the line is the key to survival. This is more than a murder mystery; Skvorecky plays with the crime story formula, turns it on its head and delivers a priceless social commentary on how writing copy was such a dangerous pastime during the communist regime. The characterisation is rich and the plot builds up to a fantastic conclusion that won't disappoint. Surely one of his most under-rated and overlooked books.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery Wrapped in Tragedy of 20th Century Czechoslovakia 10 Dec 2004
By Thomas Baker - Published on Amazon.com
Josef Skvorecky, the great Czech emigre who found a welcoming home in Toronto, remains perhaps the most engaging and least known of East European writers. Unlike his contemporaries Kundera and Konrad, Skvorecky's writing is always accessible. Like those others, he draws extensively on his own often too-absurd-to-be-true experiences navigativng first life under German occupation and then, until 1969, under the Communists. Like Konrad, he also draws from his diverse work experience -- tank driver, editor, writer, professor, saxophone player -- when creating his characters.

His best known works -- including "The Engineer of Human Souls" and "The Miracle Game" -- are extraordinary depictions of life under Communism and its lasting impact. Both feature Skvorecky's doppelganger, Danny Smircky, the oft-lovesick writer who loves jazz, along with a rich cast of characters dividing their time between Prague and the countryside.

In "Miss Silver's Past" Karel stands in for Danny, and the rest of his familar characters take a holiday. Instead, we are in Prague in the early sixties, before the 20th Soviet Party Congress, a time when the first signs of the ensuing spring first appeared. Though still in his 20s, Karel, an editor at a state publishing house, has watched his soul slowly wither, taking his poet's skill with it. Adroit at surviving in the intensely bureaucratic and constantly shifting political landscape of the office, Karel has no idea where he is going, or what he wants out of life.

That is until he meets Lenka Silver, a young, intensely beautiful woman with a deep secret.

So begins a novel that combines farce and mystery, yet rests on something far sadder and more profound. Through it, Karel is at times engaging, exasperating, and heartbreaking. This novel combines Skvorecky's usual themes (love, loneliness, longing, the idiocy of totalitarian regimes) and introduces an absorbing, fast-moving plot involving a murder, a provocative unpublished novelist, a dog show, and, of course, a summer spent driving a tank.

At its heart, "Miss Silver's Past" is much more than a mystery novel, for it rests on the not-too-distant Czech past of Nazi occupation and Communist repression, and the tragedy of the 20th century's conflagration leaves Skvorecky's characters deeply scarred, none more so than Miss Silver herself.

Outside of Riga there is a large memorial to the victims of the Nazi concentration camp that once stood there. Above the entrace, on a massive granite slab, read the words, "Beyond this wall the ground moans." Underneath Skvorecky's mystery lies the anguish of both the dead and the living.
4.0 out of 5 stars East European humor, angst, and murder mystery 2 Feb 2013
By labfs39 - Published on Amazon.com
Karel Leden is complacent. Once a poet, he now works for the State publishing house, trying to maintain his self-respect while at the same time keeping his job. Supporting anything radical could result in his being fired, or worse. His personal life is filled with a string of women whom he loves only when they seem to lose interest in him. A rather boring but likable cad. But then one day at the beach, he meets the elusive Lenka Silver, the object of his best friend's affection. Karel is immediately drawn to her and plots to get in bed with her. Dumping his ballerina girlfriend, Vera, Karel pursues the mysterious Lenka to no avail. Her disinterest only heightens his ardor. Meanwhile things at work are heating up as a new editor tries to sell Karel's boss on a new author whose book pushes the boundary of what is acceptable to the State. The machinations are intense and petty hatreds are inflamed. Then both Karel's private and work worlds collide at a company party near the lake. By morning someone is dead, and only Karel knows who the killer is.

Josef Škvorecký knew first hand the life of a repressed author working in State publishing. His first novel, [The Cowards], was met with great acclaim, but was then banned by the Communist Party. He was fired from his job as editor of World Literature and was lucking to be allowed to work at the State Publishing House of Fiction. Škvorecký was able to leave Czechoslovakia after the Russian invasion which crushed the Prague Spring. [Miss Silver's Past] was his last book to be published in the country.

Although the novel is typical of East European literature of the time, I was surprised by the inclusion of a murder mystery. Between the twists in Karel's love life, the humorous tone, and the murder, I found myself unwilling to put the book down. Entertaining, if not earth-shattering.
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