PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech emigre writer Josef Skvorecky, who published the works of former President Vaclav Havel and other authors persecuted by the communist government at home, died of cancer in Toronto on Tuesday aged 87, Czech and Canadian media reported.
Skvorecky and his author wife Zdena Salivarova set up the Sixty-Eight Publishers in Toronto after leaving Czechoslovakia in the wake of the 1968 Soviet invasion that crushed hopes of the “Prague Spring” reforms. He published 227 titles in total.
Skvorecky’s death comes after fellow leading lights of the Czech artistic anti-communist generation also died in the past year. They include Havel, who died in December, as well as authors Ivan Martin Jirous, Arnost Lustig and Jiri Grusa.
Books published by Skvorecky were often smuggled back into Czechoslovakia, opening cracks in the heavy censorship that strangled free expression in the 1970s and 1980s.
“It was nice that the books were published in Czech, beautifully done, then smuggled here for thousands of people to read,” said Ivan Klima, himself a censored fellow writer.
“They (Skvorecky and his wife) sacrificed their own writing to that. Skvorecky was an excellent author,” he told Reuters.
Skvorecky won a series of literary awards as well as the Order of Canada and the Order of the White Lion, the highest Czech award he received from Havel. He taught literature at the University of Toronto until retiring in 1990.
His first novel was “The Cowards,” written in 1948-1949, describing the atmosphere of Skvorecky’s native Czech town of Nachod during the 1945 liberation from Nazism.
Because it strayed from how the communist government would have liked the period portrayed, it was only published in 1958, and then anyway confiscated and banned. It was later translated into more than 20 languages.
Skvorecky’s saxophone-playing, jazz-loving alter-ego Danny Smiricky appeared in other works as well, including “The Republic of Whores,” an often comical description of military service in a communist force preparing for a war with the West.
Other works include ‘The Swell Season” (1975) and “The Engineer of Human Souls” (1977).
Skvorecky also attracted film makers. His works, including original screenplays, contributed to the successful period of Czechoslovak cinema in the 1960s and drew large crowds after the fall of communism in 1989.
Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Mueller