The Swell Season: A Text on the Most Important Things in Life
B.J. Busch is Associate Librarian (Access and Information Services) at
the University of Alberta.
Josef Skvorecky, winner of the 1980 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and a 1982 Nobel Prize nominee, evokes the innocence of the tender, passionate maladroitness of youth in his latest novel. The Swell Season (translation of Prima sezona) is a series of vignettes in the life of Danny Smirický, an adolescent growing up in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in the forties. Preoccupied with an awareness of his developing sexuality, Danny spends his time in bumbling and light-hearted attempts at convincing his female classmates of his devotion. The much wiser young ladies generally are able to make the all-important distinction between lust and love which Danny, in his head-long pursuit of pleasure, fails to make. Thus, Danny’s labours come to naught, but his story is told with humour and grace. The unexpected outcome of our hero’s elaborately contrived seduction plots makes for entertaining reading: on one occasion he ends up stranded on Five Finger Rock when the piton pulls out of its cement; on another, the unanticipated arrival of the girl’s father sets him to working out mathematical equations for most of the night. Danny’s lack of success with the girls is set against his other love — jazz. As part of a jazz combo, Danny develops a true camaraderie with “the boys.” In one delightful scene, the musicians manage to convince the censorious German Regierungskommissar that the Charleston is really a Czech folk dance called the Karltanz. Skvorecky’s work has been smoothly translated and reads well. The author takes us back to an era that was both simpler and starker, and the adolescent playfulness ends abruptly at the story’s conclusion.