Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Josef Skvorecky Sept. 27, 1924 -- Jan. 3, 2012 Czech Writer Challenged Communism

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Josef Skvorecky Sept. 27, 1924 -- Jan. 3, 2012 Czech Writer Challenged Communism

Article excerpt

Josef Skvorecky, a Czech writer whose novel "The Engineer of Human Souls" is considered a classic account of the absurdity of life in a totalitarian state, died Jan. 3 in Toronto, where he had lived for more than 40 years. He was 87.

His Canadian publisher and longtime friend, Louise Dennys, said he had cancer.

In addition to writing many books, Mr. Skvorecky played a significant part in publishing the works of other Czech dissident writers.

He and his wife, Zdena Salivarova, were the first publishers of Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" as well as works by Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan Klima, Ludvik Vaculik and Vaclav Havel. (Mr. Havel, who later became the Czech president, died Dec. 18.)

Mr. Skvorecky arranged for the books to be smuggled into Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, where they were widely copied and passed from hand to hand as "samizdat," or clandestine literature. (The country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.)

Mr. Skvorecky's own books were circulated in the same manner. He often ran afoul of the country's Communist authorities, and before leaving Czechoslovakia in 1969 he had lost jobs and had many of his works banned. But the sanctioned disapproval only made him more esteemed in the eyes of the Czech public.

"If you live in a country where politics are oppressive and you write," Mr. Skvorecky said in a 1985 interview with the Paris Review, "you can't avoid being a political writer."

The first of his novels to gain recognition, "The Cowards," came out in 1958, 10 years after it was written. The book's satiric depiction of the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s prompted an instant backlash from the authorities, who sought to remove it from bookstore shelves. …

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