On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice - Henry Jelinek Jr., Ann Pinchot [These notes were made in 1990:]. This is not merely the story of Otto and Maria Jelinek, the pairs skaters, although they are the centrepieces, if you will. It is the story of the entire Jelinek family and their escape from Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s. A wealthy industrialist, the elder Henry Jelinek was persecuted first by the Nazis and then by the Communists. The story of how his wife and four of their five children were smuggled out in a South American diplomat's car is indubitably the most interesting part of the book. Compared with most sports biographies, the book is well-written, and the title metaphor, if a trifle obvious, is at least tastefully handled and maintained throughout. There is very little about skating itself, except for a rhapsodic (and rather good) description of the 1962 Prague programme at the beginning. The fraternally honest descriptions of Otto bear out one's impressions from Otto's later years in politics -- not overly intelligent, and a bit of a scapegrace and a loudmouth. Not all of us, however, share Henry's fraternal indulgence for these faults. The family appears to have been exceedingly conventional and patriarchal, something which Henry credits for their survival of their various ordeals. Otto and Maria were two of the Canadian skaters who escaped death in the infamous 1961 plane disaster because for one reason or another they did not or could not change their plane reservations to travel with the Americans. A good read, and a real eye-opener about conditions in Eastern Europe during and after the War. It would have been nice to have had a little more about the development of the Jelineks as skaters -- we have their childhood days, and then all of a sudden they are winning world-class competitions. Not surprisingly, given the authorship, a really disproportionate amount of the book deals with the Jelinek childhood. But I'm glad to have it in the collection.