“If you live in a country where politics are oppressive and you write—or try to write—you can’t avoid being a political writer.”

—Josef Škvorecký

Insightful words from Czech author relocated to Canada, Josef Škvorecký.

I read a lot of Škvorecký, in both English and Czech, when I was living and working in Prague after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Prague, Czech Republic/ Kimberly Sullivan

It was an exciting time for the transformations happening around Eastern European countries – and the enormous sense of optimism among its residents after years of suffering under oppressive regimes.

It was also an exciting time for literature.

As Škvorecký so eloquently notes, the greatest intellects of the time felt under a type of moral obligation to make their voices heard against oppressive regimes.

And make their voices known they did.

The list of brilliant Czechoslovak authors lending their voices to political dissent of the time were impressive: Iván Klíma, Václav Havel, Josef Škvorecký, Bohumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera, and Pavel Kohout.

These were the authors who accompanied my time in Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s. And since I was learning Czech while working there, I struggled through their works in Czech – often dipping into the English translations when it became too difficult.

It was an exciting time for Czech literature, and these authors certainly lent their substantial talents in criticizing and helping to bring an end to these oppressive regimes