When Eve Was Naked

Written by Josef Skvorecky
Review by Claire Morris Bernard

The subtitle of this work, Stories of a Life’s Journey, describes the contents perfectly. Translated from Czech, this collection of short stories―some only a few pages, others 20-40 pages long―serves as the author’s memoirs. As he says in his introduction: “There is perhaps no character or event without a basis in what I actually knew and saw in real life.” With this aim in mind, the stories progress through the 20C. We see Prague before the Nazi occupation, people irreparably affected by WWII, life controlled by Communism, a college professor in Toronto grappling to understand students who have never experienced repression or fear.

Readers who shy away from short stories should not dismiss this book as something not for them. Although each story stands alone, the recurrence of many characters, including Danny Smiricky―narrator of most stories and Skvorecky’s fictional alter ego―fosters the feeling that this is a novel of loosely held together vignettes. In these vignettes, the author displays tremendous insight into the human condition. Laws of the Jungle, where Danny attempts to come to terms with unrequited love, is an especially powerful story. If you’re still not convinced, then consider reading this book as a 20th century history of the Czech people, for it is an enviable example of how time and place, used properly, can enhance both characters and plot.