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Josef Škvorecký (1924–2012)

photo:  (wikimedia.com)

Josef Škoverecký was an internationally renowned writer, essayist and translator and one of the most significant Czech novelists of the post-war era. In 1969, he emigrated from Czechoslovakia to Canada, where he founded an important exile publishing house with his wife. He died on 3 January 2012 in Toronto, Canada.

Josef Škvorecký was born on 27 September 1924 in Náchod. After finishing secondary school in 1943, he was forced to work as an unskilled war industry labourer in Náchod and Nové Město nad Metují. After the war, he studied at the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in the English and Philosophy departments (1946–1949) and gained a PhD in philosophy in 1951.

He worked as an editor e.g. for the “State Publishing House of Belle-Lettres and Arts” and for the “World Literature” magazine, published every two months, which he also co-founded. In 1958, he married Zdena Salivarová and from 1963 he became a freelance writer.

In 1969, he left for a lecture tour to the USA and never returned home. As a result of the political development in Czechoslovakia at the time, he emigrated to Canada with his wife and settled in Toronto. He worked as a professor of literature, theatre and film at Toronto University (1969–1990). From the 1970s, he held lectures at different North American universities. The publishing house Sixty-Eight Publishers ('68 Publishers), which he founded in 1971, helped to spread the work of Czech authors that was banned in Czechoslovakia by the regime at the time. By 1993, the publishing house had published 227 works.

Literary work

The Cowards (Zbabělci, 1958) was his first book and the one that made him famous. It was banned by the communist regime until 1964. The writer first introduced the character of Danny Smiřický, which is autobiographical to a certain extent, and is also present in his other books such as The Republic of Whores (Tankový prapor, 1971), The Swell Season (Prima sezóna, 1975) or The Engineer of Human Souls (Příběh inženýra lidských duší, 1977).

In his novels, the author often examined the nature of the petit bourgeoisie who collaborated with every regime depicted, e.g. in the books End of the Nylon Age (Konec nylonového věku, 1967) and The Life of High Society (Ze života lepší společnosti, 1985). Škvorecký also wrote detective stories including the novel Miss Silver’s Past (Lvíče, 1969) and The Miracle Game (Mirákl, 1972) or the collection of short stories The Mournful Demeanor of Lieutenant Borůvka (Smutek poručíka Borůvky, 1985).

Many screenplays were inspired by Škvorecký’s prose and themes, such as Farářův konec (1968), Zločin v šantánu (1968), Flirt se slečnou Stříbrnou (1969) or Tankový prapor (1991).

Škvorecký’s work includes hundreds of literary critiques, essays and studies in foreign magazines and hundreds of radio programmes for the Voice of America. He was also a prolific translator, who translated and wrote epilogues for novels of prominent modern American writers including Chandler, Faulkner, Lewis, James and others.
Author: Ivana Jenerálová
Added: 25.02.2012

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