This is my first encounter with the work of Josef Skvorecky. As his Author's Note explains, this book ties together many of the characters and themes from his previous novels. If I had been more familiar with his work, I would have enjoyed this book more.
That being said, I still enjoyed it. Paul Wilson has done a fantastic job translating Ordinary Lives into English--if I didn't know it had been translated, I would have thought it a native English novel. Since I can't read Czech, I have to assume that the lyrical prose is a faithful translation and not an embellishment on Wilson's part--but considering the depth of the characters and the gravitas with which Skvorecky writes, my assumption must be right.
I've studied World War II like any good history student, but after sixty years this momentous era has been reduced--in high schools, at least--to bleak facts and consecutive tragedies, each awaiting its allotted period of time in a student's busy schedule. Personal testimonials about the war usually came from Jewish Holocaust survivors, most of whom lived in Germany. And my history class pretty much stopped after WWII--I never learned about the '50s, and especially not about how the rise of communism affected Central and Eastern Europe.
So I'm grateful to Skvorecky for granting me this glimpse into the eponymous Ordinary Lives of Czech and Germans under the regimes of the Nazis and the Communist Party. I admire Skvorecky's approach to these topics--as much as I enjoy the blockbuster movies set during some of the most important wartime operations, there's something to be said for focusing on the more "mundane" aspects of life during and after WWII. Enriched by his first-hand experience about which he writes, Skvorecky's novels demonstrate to us why the effects of WWII were so pervasive to the lives of Central Europeans.