The Cowards (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 6 May 2010
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Anyone who wants to know how it felt to be young, idealistic and innocent at the end of the war should read The Cowards (The Times Literary Supplement)
Sceptical, humourous, liberal and humane. (London Review of Books)
[The series] sheds remarkable light on the literature, culture and politics of the region...anyone coming fresh to the field will be captivated by the richness, variety, humour and pathos of a classic literature that, through a shared historical experience, transcends national and linguistic boundaries. (CJ Schüler Independent on Sunday)
This [series] is a wonderful idea ... They are absurdist parables, by turns hilarious, unsettling and enigmatic. (Nicholas Lezard Guardian)
I urge you to go and read them. (Adam Thirlwell New Statesman)
This new series of Central European Classics is important well beyond simply providing 'good reads'. (Stephen Vizinczey Daily Telegraph)
About the Author
Josef Skvorecky (born in 1924) was a leading Czech novelist and dissident, a key figure in keeping alive from exile a liberal, humanistic Czech culture during the Cold War. His most famous novels are The Cowards, Miss Silver's Past, The Bass Saxophone and The Engineer of Human Souls. He died in 2012, at the age of eighty-seven.
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Skvorecky's novel's subtle comedy and remembrances of youth during a week-long liberation from the Germans kept my interest. The story revolves on Daniel's late-teen wants, all driven by his desire for Irene, his (perhaps) one love. His quest for resistance action, assisting English POWs, and daydreams have as their goal winning Irene, even if appearances are otherwise. Skvorecky's insight into male teen-dome is brilliant.
Yet the novel doesn't miss hitting on themes of courage, survival, revenge, pity, and the question of self-preservation as cowardice or wisdom.
Opened and closed by Daniel's love of jazz's honesty, the book was, for me, a perfect read. Substance, humor, memories of my youth, and jazz.
The main intention of the author, from my point of view, is to remark that both the revolution and the liberation are a complete farce, that History, as written in books, is a great deal of falsified propaganda. Danel Smiricky and his friends of the jazz band are by no means interested in heroic feats nor care about patriotism but about girls and music.
But Skvorecky gives a moving view of his characters and events, an intimate vision, tender, dramatic, satyrical, funny, critical, full of humour and nostalgia, as only Czech writers can, because I have always found that Czech writers have the incredible ability to combine the trivial with the deep, the ordinary with the remarkable, the comical with the dramatic, the harsh with the tender.
Of course, this novel, being one of the earliest by Skvorecky, lacks the maturity of "The Engineer of Human Souls"; nevertheless, it is worth while to read it and realize that nothing is what it seems and that History is subject to countless manipulations.