In addition to writing many books, Mr. Skvorecky (pronounced shook-vor-ETZ-kee) played a significant part in publishing the works of other Czech dissident writers.
He and his wife, Zdena Salivarova, were the first publishers of Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” as well as works by Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan Klima, Ludvik Vaculik and Vaclav Havel. (Havel, who later became the Czech president, died Dec. 18.)
Mr. Skvorecky arranged for the books to be smuggled into Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, where they were widely copied and passed from hand to hand as “samizdat,” or clandestine literature. (The country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.)
Mr. Skvorecky’s own books were circulated in the same manner. He often ran afoul of the country’s Communist authorities, and before leaving Czechoslovakia in 1969 he had lost jobs and had many of his works banned. But the sanctioned disapproval only made him more esteemed in the eyes of the Czech public.
“If you live in a country where politics are oppressive and you write,” Mr. Skvorecky said in a 1985 interview with the Paris Review, “you can’t avoid being a political writer.”
The first of his novels to gain recognition, “The Cowards,” came out in 1958, 10 years after it was written. The book’s satiric depiction of the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in the late 1940s prompted an instant backlash from the authorities, who sought to remove it from bookstore shelves.
It was also considered a literary breakthrough for its casual style, complete with street slang inspired by Mr. Skvorecky’s study of Ernest Hemingway and American detective fiction. The novel’s protagonist, Danny Smiricky, became a much-loved character who reappeared in many of Mr. Skvorecky’s later books.
The jazz-loving Danny, hapless but ever hopeful in love, was clearly Mr. Skvorecky’s alter ego. Both were would-be saxophonists who nurtured a lifelong fascination with American writers and culture.
Danny was the central character of “The Engineer of Human Souls,” which Mr. Skvorecky published in Czech in 1977 and in English in 1984. (The book’s title came from a term used by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to describe novelists.)
The novel, whose seven chapters are named after English-language writers, follows Danny’s picaresque adventures through the decades, jumping from his youth in Czechoslovakia to his later life in Canada. Amid the threats and deprivations of life in the Soviet bloc, Danny never loses his cheerful good will as he stumbles from one calamity to another.
Mr. Skvorecky wrote many other well-regarded novels, including “Dvorak in Love,” “The Republic of Whores,” “The Bride of Texas,” and a series of detective novels, but “The Engineer of Human Souls” was recognized as his masterpiece.