Headed For the Blues: A Memoir With Ten Stories

Blaine Kyllo

I get nervous when I can't remember what happened to me when I was younger. My parents and my grandparents never seem at a loss when telling their past, and I wonder if I have defective neurons that prevent me from storing information properly.

Josef Skvorecky seems to remember his young life quite well and the memoir section of his latest book, Headed For the Blues: A Memoir With Ten Stories (Knopf), reads like it would be told: a long, woven, halting tale. Skvorecky, who spent his adolescence in the shadow of communism, builds a history of oppressed Prague on blocks of fact. But he is hesitant. "I can't fully believe what my eyes haven't seen," he tells us, which is why he interposes his own marginalia into the text. He is overwhelmed, even guilty, about his tendency as a youth to protect himself: "I've always been a champion of caution, staying out of trouble, neutrality." He is uncomfortable with the realization that as a young man he wanted to be altruistic, but knew better.

Despite their repressed setting, the characters in "The Tenor Saxophonist's Story" are no different than twenty-somethings everywhere struggling to comprehend love and the circumstances of living. And Skvorecky was as fatalistic then as I am today: "Let me tell you, these kinds of attempts are hopeless. If you start to search, you've got it all wrong. Because of course you can't search for these kinds of things. Either they come or they don't. The tragedy is, they usually don't. That's the law of nature."

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