Josef Škvorecký Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Josef Václav kvorecký (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 kvorecký, a bank clerk, and Anna Kurazova kvorecký, an actress. Between 1943 and 1945, after having graduated from high school during the Nazi occupation of his homeland, kvorecký 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 kvorecký served in the elite tank division at a military post near Prague from 1951 to 1953.kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}kvoreck{yacute}, Josef[Skvorecky, Josef]}

During the next decade kvorecký 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, kvorecký’s first published novel, The Cowards, did not appear until 1958. In this work Daniel Smiricky, who became the protagonist of several other kvorecký 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...

(The entire section is 854 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Josef Václav kvorecký was born in 1924. Much of kvorecký’s life is evident in his fiction: Significant events are recalled in several works. While he was attending the local Gymnasium (college-preparatory secondary school) from 1935 to 1943, he developed what would become a lifelong appreciation for jazz and began his study of English, reading American authors in translation. During the Nazi occupation, he was a forced laborer in a Messerschmitt factory, an experience that is described in The Cowards and The Engineer of Human Souls. He earned a doctorate in philosophy from Charles University in Prague in 1951. His writing career started auspiciously; he won a university prize for his short stories. He taught at a girls’ school in Horice (described in The Miracle Game) for a year, and in 1951, he was inducted into the army, serving two years in a tank division.

By 1948, kvorecký was a member of the Prague underground group of writers and artists, reacting against the Soviet occupation and control of Czechoslovakia, which took place in 1945. Between 1948 and 1949 he worked on his first novel, The Cowards, which was not published for ten years. He had abandoned Konec nylonoveho véku during this time; it was unpublished but perhaps privately circulated because of the oppressive censorship of the Soviet regime. Although The Cowards was popularly received in 1958, the book was banned, and kvorecký lost his post as deputy editor in chief of the magazine Svêtová Literatura. kvorecký, however, had established himself as a worthy essayist, critic, and translator, particularly of modern American literature giants Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner.

With the arrival of the Soviet tanks in 1968, kvorecký and his wife, Zdena, whom he had married in 1957, emigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. kvorecký joined the faculty of the University of Toronto as a writer-in-residence and a member of the English Department. In 1971 the kvoreckýs founded Sixty-Eight Publishers, a conduit for the publications of Czech literature, including kvorecký’s own works. Now free to devote himself to writing, kvorecký began an amazingly productive period. He also began to broadcast for the U.S. government-run radio network Voice of America, not only speaking about Czech literature but also reviewing publications by British and American writers. No longer just a symbol of dissidence, he emerged as a significant figure in international literature.