Cover image for Two murders in my double life
Two murders in my double life
Škvorecký, Josef, 1924-2012.
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.

Physical Description:
175 pages ; 22 cm
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In Josef Skvorecky's first novel written in English, the narrator lives in two radically dissimilar worlds: the exile world of the post-Communist Czech Republic, where old feuds, treacherous betrayals, and friendships persevere; and the comfortable, albeit bland world of middle-class Canada. Murder intrudes upon both of these worlds. One features a young female sleuth, a college beauty queen, jealousy in the world of academia, and a neat conclusion. The other is a tragedy caused by evil social forces and philosophies, in which a web of lies insidiously entangles Sidonia, the narrator's wife. A brilliantly stylish tour de force in which the bright, sarcastic comedy of one tale sharply contrasts with the dark, elegiac bitterness of the other, Two Murders in My Double Life confirms Skvorecky's reputations as one of the most versatile, engaging, and compassionate writers.

Author Notes

Josef Skvorecky was born in Nachod, Czechoslovakia on September 27, 1924. Under Nazi occupation, he was forced to work in an aircraft factory. He later read Philosophy at Charles University in Prague. He worked for the state publishing house, helping to translate books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler. He began to write detective stories featuring Lieutenant Boruvka, which became popular with Czech readers. In 1958, his novel The Cowards was published and then banned on the grounds that it was "Titoist and Zionist."

He and his wife moved to Canada after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia that crushed the liberal reforms known as the Prague Spring. They founded 68 Publishers in 1971, which released more than 200 books by exiled Czech authors and those banned by the communists. Skvorecky's other written works include Miss Silver's Past, The Engineer of Human Souls, and The Miracle Game. In 1980, he received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He taught at the University of Toronto. He died on January 3, 2012 at the age of 87.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A never-named literature professor at a Toronto-area college, a specialist in detective novels, tells the story of his amusement with a real-life murder while he simultaneously witnesses the spiritual murder of his wife, Sidonia. The couple are emigres from Czechoslovakia's fallen Communist regime, and her name has turned up on "the List," a muckraking publisher's roster of supposed collaborators with the Communist-era secret police. The news drives Sidonia into alcoholism, a world of pain that parallels the quasi-comical episode of an actual murder at Edenvale College, the garroting of a math professor's cheating husband. The professor delights in the case and, in his office or atop his favorite bar stool, discusses clues and alibis with his tubby student, Dorothy Sayers (!), or with the campus beauty queen, Candace Quentin. The airy humor of this badinage schizophrenically contrasts with the narrator's serious recollections of his and Sidonia's life under Communism. An odd but thoroughly readable combination of amusement and grimness. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Skvorecky left his native Czechoslovakia in 1969 in the wake of the Soviet invasion and has been living in Canadian exile ever since. For the last 30 years, he has published copiously in Czech and has fared well in English translation (The Cowards; The Engineer of Human Souls; etc.). Now in his 70s, he has written his first book in English an intermittently eloquent if not entirely persuasive fiction, part murder mystery and part campus novel. The protagonist is an unnamed Skvorecky-like professor in Canadian exile, whose wife, Sidonia, a writer and editor, is being cruelly slandered in the Czech Republic by resentful postcommunist climbers. Meanwhile, life on the Toronto campus is disrupted by an unlikely murder. Two radically dissimilar worlds are here juxtaposed and interwoven: Central Europe, with its ferociously bitter animosities and treacheries left over from the Soviet era; and bland, tidy, middle-class Canada. The account of the relentless hounding of Sidonia and her bitter end is almost unbearably poignant, but the dull mystery story does not hold up its end of the bargain. In addition, Skvorecky has perhaps gotten carried away with the mimicry of spoken English. He has the non-native speaker's joyful enthusiasm for the little quirks that make English idiomatic, but the impression created by the text is not one of authentic talk so much as relentless chatter. Still, the novel is notable for its evocation of the professor's enduring love and respect for his brilliant, long-suffering wife. (May) Forecast: Skvorecky treads familiar ground in his latest novel, but it's being written in English may spark more reviews than usual. A charming photograph of the author and his wife in their youth on the jacket may attract browsers. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

kvoreck", the well-known Czech writer who has lived in Canada for decades, relates in this "crime novel" the stories of two transgressions and their impact on those involved. Taking place in Toronto at Edenvale College, the investigation into the mysterious murder of a professor uncovers a jumble of suspicious alibis, romantic entanglements, and professional rivalries involving both students and faculty. At the same time, the narrator and his wife, Sidonia, both ‚migr‚s from the repressive Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, find out that she has been named as an informer according to state documents from the distant past. They travel to Prague in an attempt to clear her name, but accusations, news reports, and innuendoes weave a web of confusion and contradiction around the entire affair, and she becomes an innocent victim of her own supposed crime. Told with much humor in an informal, improvisational style, this short novel interweaves two stories in a narrative that is absorbing and enjoyable to read. The depth of feeling with which kvoreck" writes about the episode in Prague may suggest that some of the story is autobiographical; kvoreck" was, in fact, a professor at a college in Toronto and shares much in common with this narrator. This work treats some themes kvoreck" has worked with before (most recently in The Tenor Saxophonist's Story) and provides a good introduction to previous works by this internationally respected author. Recommended for all contemporary literature collections. Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. Lib. at Oneonta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.