Authors: Josef Škvorecký

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Czech novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Zbabělci, 1958 (The Cowards, 1970)

Legenda Emöke, 1963 (Emöke, 1977)

Bassaxofon, 1967 (The Bass Saxophone, 1977)

Konec nylonoveho véku, 1967

Farářův konec, 1969 (with Evald Schorm)

Lvíče, 1969 (Miss Silver’s Past, 1974)

Tankový prapor, 1969 (The Republic of Whores: A Fragment from the Time of the Cults, 1993)

Mirákl: Politická detectivka, 1972 (The Miracle Game,1991)

Prima sezóna, 1975 (The Swell Season: A Text on the Most Important Things in Life, 1982)

Konec poručíka Borůvky, 1975 (The End of Lieutenant Boruvka, 1989)

Příběh inženýra lidských duší, 1977 (The Engineer of Human Souls: An Entertainment on the Old Themes of Life, Women, Fate, Dreams, the Working Class, Secret Agents, Love, and Death, 1984)

Návrat poruříka Borůvky, 1981 (The Return of Lieutenant Boruvka, 1990)

Scherzo capriccioso: Veselýsen o Dvořákovi, 1983 (Dvořák in Love: A Light-Hearted Dream, 1986)

Nevěsta z Texasu, 1992 (The Bride of Texas, 1995)

Nevysvšetlitelny pšríbšeh: Aneb, Vyprávšení Questa Firma Sicula, 1998 (An Inexplicable Story: Or, The Narrative of Questus, 2002)

Two Murders in My Double Life, 1999

Short Fiction:

Smutek poručíka Borůvky, 1966 (The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka, 1973)

Hříchy pro pátera Knoxe, 1973 (Sins for Father Knox, 1988)

Povídky tenorsaxofonisty, 1993 (The Tenor Saxophonist’s Story, 1997)

Nonfiction:

O nich’o nás, 1968

All the Bright Young Men and Women: A Personal History of the Czech Cinema, 1971

Jiří Menzel and the History of the “Closely Watched Trains,” 1982

Talkin’ Moscow Blues, 1988

When Eve Was Naked: A Journey Through Life, 2000 (also known as When Eve Was Naked: Stories of a Life’s Journey, 2002)

Miscellaneous:

Headed for the Blues: A Memoir with Ten Stories, 1997

Biography

Josef Václav Škvorecký (SHKWOR-eht-skee), long one of the best-known Czech novelists, has established a distinguished international literary reputation since his exile in 1968. He was born to Josef Škvorecký, a bank clerk, and Anna Kurazova Škvorecký, an actress. Between 1943 and 1945, after having graduated from high school during the Nazi occupation of his homeland, Škvorecký was impressed into labor at Messerschmitt factories, first in Náchod and then in Nové Mesto. These experiences are vividly depicted in several of his major novels. During the final months of the war he spent time digging trenches and working in a cotton mill. In 1945 he began studying medicine at Prague’s Charles University, but after beginning to write fiction he transferred to the Faculty of Philosophy, graduated in 1949, and received his Ph.D. in 1951. During this time he became an active member of the Prague underground community of writers and artists resisting the censorship imposed by the postwar Communist regime. After being drafted Škvorecký served in the elite tank division at a military post near Prague from 1951 to 1953.{$I[AN]9810000874}{$I[A]{Scaron}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}{$I[geo]CZECH REPUBLIC;{Scaron}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}{$I[geo]CANADA;{Scaron}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}{$I[tim]1924;{Scaron}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}

During the next decade Škvorecký built a substantial literary reputation as a translator and editor of such American writers as Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and Edgar Allan Poe. His early short stories and an early novel, however, were censored before publication. Although written in 1948, when he was twenty-four, Škvorecký’s first published novel, The Cowards, did not appear until 1958. In this work Daniel Smiricky, who became the protagonist of several other Škvorecký novels, is full of youthful preoccupation with self, jazz, and girls as he moves through eight days at the beginning of the dramatic May, 1945, transition from German occupation to Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. The book was banned and confiscated for its depictions of German and Soviet military men, and the author was removed from his post as editor of the journal Světová Literatura. Suppression made the book even more popular, and Škvorecký became a national literary figure. Subsequent fluctuations in political climate permitted occasional publication of some of his shorter fictions, among them Emöke, but the greater part of Škvorecký’s work during this period was film and television screenplays. Two books in English on the history of Czech cinema and Škvorecký’s associations with the director Jiři Menzel and other luminaries of the screen attest Škvorecký’s passion for film.

In spite of continued censorship of his work, Škvorecký published several short-story collections between 1964 and 1968, as well as a detective novel, The Mournful Demeanor of Lieutenant Boruvka. He won several awards for translation and fiction and served actively in film, television, and literary organizations. August 21, 1968, the date of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, marked a radical break in Škvorecký’s career. He and his wife of ten years, Zdena Salivarová, a singer, actress, and novelist, emigrated to Toronto, Canada, where Škvorecký became a professor in the English department at Erindale College of the University of Toronto. There he and his wife established Sixty-Eight Publishers, which they dedicated to distributing the works of Czechoslovakian writers both in Czechoslovakia and in exile. With the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia the publishing enterprise was brought to an end, having fulfilled its task.

In 1970 a translation of The Cowards first made Škvorecký’s work available to English-speaking audiences. Other notable translations followed, including Miss Silver’s Past and The Bass Saxophone. Contributions to the literary community as political commentator, critic, editor, publisher, and translator brought Škvorecký international visibility, and in 1980 he was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. One of the most notable of Škvorecký’s novels, The Engineer of Human Souls, was published in 1984 and received the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award in the same year. In The Engineer of Human Souls Daniel Smiricky, the semiautobiographical young protagonist of The Cowards, Tankovy prapor (the tank corps), The Miracle Game, and The Swell Season, appears once more. Smiricky’s adventures as he matures, from girl chasing to teaching English at a Canadian college, are chronicled in these novels. He seems to have been the inspiration for Škvorecký’s protagonists in The Bass Saxophone, Miss Silver’s Past, and Dvořák in Love.

Škvorecký’s foray into mystery and detective fiction produced a continuing series of novels with Lieutenant Boruvka as their central character. In a context of ever alert and powerful political and social censors, mystery fiction allowed a writer to continue his profession. At the same time, he could, perhaps, incorporate subtle commentary on politics and society, as Škvorecký does in Miss Silver’s Past. Škvorecký ranks among such distinguished Eastern European post-World War II, exiled writers as his fellow countryman Milan Kundera, Polish Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz, and the Russian writers Joseph Brodsky and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Engineer of Human Souls and The Cowardshave met with great critical acclaim. Škvorecký’s works transcend national borders and ideologies to address a truly international audience. In 1999, the Czech Republic honored his contribution to Czech letters during his years of exile with the State Prize for Literature.

BibliographyKalish, Jana. Josef Škvorecký: A Checklist. Toronto: University of Toronto Library, 1986. Extremely helpful but limited to pre-1986 subject matter.O’Brien, John, ed. “Special Issue: Mario Vargas Llosa and Josef Škvorecký.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 1 (Spring, 1997): 78-158. Contains brief but perceptive essays, a limited select bibliography, an interview with and a previously unpublished short story by Škvorecký, and two essays on The Bride of Texas.Solecki, Sam, ed. The Achievement of Josef Škvorecký. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. Concentrates on the major works and includes an essay on the literary scandal surrounding the publication of The Cowards. Extensive bibliography.Solecki, Sam, ed. Prague Blues: The Fiction of Josef Škvorecký. Toronto: ECW Press, 1990. The best starting point for a study of Škvorecký. Solecki has an appreciation of Škvorecký’s work and is extremely perceptive. Includes a good bibliography.Trensky, Paul I. The Fiction of Josef Škvorecký. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. A good perspective on the earlier works, with additional comments on the detective stories.
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