Josef Škvorecký, RIP

The world has lost another important Czech freedom-fighter: Josef Škvorecký, novelist and essayist, '68er emigre and jazz-lover, and co-founder of the crucial Toronto-based dissident publishing house 68 Publishers, has died of cancer at age 87.

As a novelist Škvorecký is probably most famous for The Engineer of Human Souls; as a nonfiction enthusiast I know him best through his 1988 collection Talkin' Moscow Blues: Essays About Literature, Politics, Movies & Jazz, which really drills home the oftentime minute similarities between applied fascism and communism. It was 68 Publishers, founded in 1971, that proved to be a lifeline to both Czechoslovak literature and dissidence, publishing samizdat works from the likes of Havel and Milan Kundera and Bohumil Hrabal that would often be re-smuggled back into the country.

Some people left Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Soviet invasion (just as many escaped Hungary after 1956), and–quite understandably–turned their backs on the mangled countries they left behind. Škvorecký was not one of them. He was committed to helping his native land, helping his native language, and perpetuating the free flow of ideas under arduous circumstances. He will be missed.

Link via the Twitter feed of the Czech Center in New York.

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  • GILMORE||

    Good writer.

    I read his book, The Swell Season in college... set in Nazi-occupied Prague during the 40s. It is notable mainly for the fact that the narrator (teenage jazz enthusiast) is significantly less concerned with Nazism, oppression, totalitarianism, etc. than he is with getting laid. As soon and as often as possible.

    I think it was a sort of backhanded insult to Fascists/totalitarians; 'you weren't even enough to distract me from truly important things'

    Its definitely a more-fun way to be a 'dissident'. His critique of his 'oppressors' seemed partly a refusal to allow them to dominate his attention. In the stories they function almost like a neutral backdrop, props, ultimately empty, unimportant. He was a refreshing change from reading people like Kundera or Solzenitzen. At least his sense of humor was more apparent. Highly recommended if anyone wants to read his stuff.

    Never read Engineer, myself...although I bought it for my mom for Christmas a year or two ago on a whim... should steal it back sometime soon and read that one.

  • BakedPenguin||

    From the Amazon link to his essays: (emphasis added)

    As a Czech he is exiled for life, but as a Canadian he has found the freedom to express his thoughts and opinions, both in fiction and in non-fiction. (1988)
  • Matt Welch||

    That was probably true in 1988.

  • rather||

    The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation

    Pierre Elliot Trudeau before he was elected Prime Minister

    "December 22, 1967, p. 1.He was commenting on the governments proposal to overhaul Canadian criminal law, giving new recognition to individual rights in several areas, including sexual behavior"


    Canada has been MYOB on most social issues.  BTW, he loved to tell reporters to Fuck off

  • Almanian||

    Speaking of Czechs, where's Petr Klima these days?

  • Paul||

    Talkin' Moscow Blues: Essays About Literature, Politics, Movies & Jazz, which

    Matt, was that a translated title? My mother was Czech (native born) and she didn't say things like "talkin'".

  • Matt Welch||

    No, I'm confident that that was the title JS & his publisher chose.

  • Matt Welch||

    Which is to say, it was (AFAIK) a specifically English-language collection.

  • rather||

    The author does not have a say so on title translations, cover art, nor inside work -depends on their pull


    General rules for translating foreign language titles

  • Generation Chatter||

    died of cancer at age 87

    That would make him, not an evil Boomer, but a Greatest Generationer!

    Discuss.

  • rather||

    onetime at the pet store I fell asleep in a cage and when I woke up they sold me to a Mexican family. I tried to learn how to speak Mexican but the family was Chinese instead.

  • rather||

    One day, I will find out who you are (how much do I need to donate, Reason?), and I will keep you in a cage at the end of my bed; I always found TV boring

  • ADHD||

    He's a third-rate you. Isn't that punishment enough?

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