A Handful of Words for Josef Škvorecký (Hrst slov na rozloučenou s Josefem Škvoreckým)

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The house Zdena and Josef Škvorecký for quite a number of years called their home (and Zdena still does), is located in one of the nicest Toronto residential areas: an area of well-preserved middle-age residences with well-tended gardens and here and there a magnificent old oak (or maple) tree. Škvorecky’s is a truly historical house. Not only because it was a pilgrimage stop for journalists and prominent visitors from the Czech Republic (in February, 1990 – when their native land was still called Czechoslovakia – it witnessed a reception following president Havel’s appearance at the Convocation Hall of the University of Toronto, where he delivered an important speech to several thousands of his countrymen and received an honorary doctorate from the York University); but mainly because it was the editorial and publishing centre of 68 publishers, the most important exile publishing house. It is the house, where the last several years of his life he was cared for by Zdena, and from which he was taken to the hospital, where he died, after just a few days, in the morning hours of January 2, 2012.

The paragraph about him In the Canadian Who’sWho is probably the longest in the whole volume. It mentions all his books, among them The Cowards (Zbabělci), The Legend of Emoke (Legenda Emoke), the Tank Corps (Tankový prapor), The Miracle Game (Mirájk), The Swell Season (Prima sezona), The Engineer of Human Souls (Příběh inženýra lidských duší), Dvořák in love, the Lieutenant Boruvka stories, the murder stories he wrote with Zdena, starting with A Brief Encounter With Murder in 1999, as well as his translations. Most of his books were translated to English a well as other languages. His awards include: Gugenheim Fellow, Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Governor-General’s Award, Order of Canada, Czechoslovak Order of the White Lion (also awarded to Zdena) and several honorary doctorates.

Škvorecký also had a distinguished academic career, starting in 1968 as a Visiting Lecturer in English at the University of Toronto. He was appointed Associare Professor of English in 1972 and Associate Professor in the Drama Centre in 1972, Professor in 1975 and retired in 1990 as Professor Emeritus. In 1992, he was awarded by the University of Toronto an Honorary doctorate of Letters. Škvorecký participated in several programs of the Centre of European, Russian and Eurasian studies, for example The Seminar on Czechoslovakia. Both he and Zdena also kept in touch with the New Theatre. Zdena was a founding member appeared in the first production, Jirasek’s Lucerna; Josef wrote for the New Theatre a play, Bůh do domu (God in Your House).

We last applauded both Josef and Zdena on May 29, 2011 at the Mysteriously Yours theatre (a theatre then known as Limelight Dinner Theatre made popular by the Czech actor and director Adolf Toman).The evening of May 29 was partly a goodbye party for the Consul General of the Czech Republic, Richard Krpač, but most of all a tribute to Josef Škvorecký. We saw Rhytmus in the heel, a film based on Škvorecky’s story “Malá pražská matahara” (A little Prague Matahara), published in April 2003 by the Literary Academy (Private school of Josef Škvorecký) as the fist volume of Josef Škvorecký edition. It narrates the fortunes of a group of young people after the Communist coup d’état. All of them ended badly (with the exception of Dany Smiřický (Josef Škvorecký alter ego), whom the communist official in charge of liquidating the group, decided to keep in reserve. The film ends with the aged Smiřický’s sentence (both aching and noble) which does not appear in the book: “I have never forgiven myself for having survived it.” Zdena and Josef came intentionally late and were ‘smuggled’ to the balcony through a special entrance. As they were getting ready to leave, Richard Krpač announced their presence and the hall erupted in applause, which only increased, when Dr. Škvorecký took off his hat and started to leave, leaning on his walker, magnificent (Škvorecký was a believing Catholic) in the humble acceptance of his fate.

In the last months of his life, Josef Škvorecký tended one more dream: a hope that somehow enough capital will be raised to make a film based on his Cowards.

His death was reported by the world’s media, particularly in Toronto (the Globe and Mail) devoted to the Škvorecký story a whole page, featuring – among others – an article by Paul Wilson.

 

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Dům, ve kterém Zdena a Josef Škvorecký desítky let žili (a Zdena dosud žije)a tvořili, se nachází v jedné z nejpěknějších torontských čtvrtí: čtvrti domů středního věku s pěkně udržovanými zahrádkami a tu a tam krásným obrovitým stromem. Je to historický dům, nejen proto, že byl poutním místem pro novináře a prominentní návštěvníky z Čech (v únoru 1990 – a to bylo ještě Československo – se tam konala recepce po Havlově vystoupení v Convocation Hall, kde Havel pronesl významný projev k několika tisícům krajanů a byl poctěn čestným doktorátem York University), ale hlavně proto, že byl vydavatelským a redakčním centrem nejvýznamnějšího exilového nakladatelství

Pokračování ZDE

 

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