Czech author Josef Skvorecky dies aged 87

Josef Skvorecky Josef Skvorecky was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1982

Czech author Josef Skvorecky, who took a stand against communist authorities in his native country by publishing banned works, has died aged 87.

His wife Zdena Salivarova told the Czech CTK news agency that he passed away on Tuesday in Toronto, Canada.

The writer fled there after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion and founded an agency that published books by dissident authors such as Vaclav Havel.

Havel, who died in December, became the first President of the Czech Republic.

In 1990, he presented Skvorecky with the Order of the White Lion - the country's highest honour.

It was just one of many lifetime awards awarded to the prolific writer, famed for his improvisational prose style.

Skvorecky's work explored recurring themes of the dangers of totalitarianism and repression of the masses.

In 1982, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize and two years later was presented with the Canadian Governor General's Award for English Language Fiction.

In 1996, he was made a knight of the order of arts and letters - one of the highest honours in France - and he was named the recipient of the Czech Republic State Prize for Literature in 1999.

He also taught literature at the University of Toronto until retiring in 1990.

Prague Spring

Skvorecky and his writer and actress wife Salivarova founded Sixty-Eight Publishers in 1971, three years after reaching the shores of Canada.

It was named in honour of the Prague Spring of 1968, a period of political liberalisation and decentralisation prior to the Soviet invasion.

Skvorecky began by publishing his own works, first in Czech and then in English. But he also published works by Arnost Lustig and Milan Kundera, with more than 200 books rolling off the presses.

Kundera's provocative The Unbearable Lightness of Being was first published in Czech through Sixty-Eight Publishers in 1985.

The books were often smuggled back into Czechoslovakia.

'Sacrifice'

Fellow exiled author Ivan Klima paid tribute to Skvorecky calling him an "excellent author".

Speaking to Reuters news agency, he said: "It was nice that the books were published in Czech, beautifully done, then smuggled here for thousands of people to read.

"They [Skvorecky and his wife] sacrificed their own writing to that."

Much of his fictional work is available in English, including the titles The Cowards, Miss Silver's Past and The Miracle Game.

The Cowards was his first novel, written between 1948 and 1949, when he was still resident in his home country.

It described the atmosphere of Skvorecky's native town of Nachod during the 1945 liberation from Nazism.

However, the communist government did not approve of its portrayal of the period. Publication was delayed until 1958, at which point it was confiscated and banned. It was later translated into more than 20 languages.

But Skvorecky was also known for his detective novels, which featured Lieutenant Boruvka of the Prague Homicide Bureau.

His many non-fiction works included Talkin' Moscow Blues and Headed for the Blues - his memoirs of a life spent writing amidst political repression.

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