Josef Škvorecký, 1924 - 2012

The DailyJosef Škvorecký

"Josef Škvorecký, the Czech-Canadian novelist whose stories of life under totalitarianism drew on his own experiences of both Nazism and Communism, died on Tuesday," reports Joseph Brean for Postmedia News. "He was 87. His novel The Engineer of Human Souls, a humorous account of the absurdity of totalitarianism, won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 1984, and he was awarded the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1980."

From Reuters: "Škvorecký 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. Škvorecký's death comes after fellow leading lights of the Czech artistic anti-communist generation also died in the past year. They include [Václav] Havel, who died in December, as well as authors Ivan Martin Jirous, Arnost Lustig and Jiří Gruša."

"Škvorecký left no shortage of legacies to remember him by," writes Atlantic deputy editor JJ Gould, "but one of the more notable themes in his nonfiction writing especially is an emphasis on, as [Matt] Welch puts it [at Reason], 'the oftentime minute similarities between applied fascism and communism.' And one of Škvorecký's more notable explorations of that theme, I always thought, is found in his recollections and insights on the totalitarian hatred of jazz. Here he is writing in the introduction to his novella The Bass Saxophone:

In the days when everything in life was fresh — because we were sixteen, seventeen — I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a color, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of the power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land.

"Anyone who finds this proposition fascinating won't, I promise, be disappointed to read the rest of this book, or for that matter all of Talkin' Moscow Blues: Essays About Literature, Politics, Movies, and Jazz."

At his site dedicated to Škvorecký, Mattias Idunger notes that Škvorecký wrote two books about Czech cinema, All the Bright Young Men and Women, and Jirí Menzel and the History of the Closely Watched Trains. "Škvorecký extensively wrote for films and television. The feature film The Tank Battalion, adapted from his novel The Republic of Whores, was the first Czech film made not by the Barrandov State Studios but by a private company, The Bonton Films; it was the biggest box-office success since the fall of communism. Other features, written for Prague TV, include Eine kleine Jazzmusik, adapted from his story of the same name, The Emöke Legend from a novella of the same name, and a two-hour TV drama Poe and the Murder of a Beautiful Girl, based on the murder of Mary Rogers of New York which Poe had used for his story 'The Mystery of Marie Roget.' Three very successful TV serials were made from his stories: Sins for Father Knox, The Swell Season and Murders for Luck."

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