Disturbing the Peace
A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala
On the eve of his fiftieth birthday, Vaclav Havel looks back on his life in the theatre, the literary politics of his early years and the stagnation that followed the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Havel also discusses his part in his country's struggle to restore morality and civic responsibility to public life and the price he has paid for this. Havel spent several years in prison, faced constant harassment by the police, and had his plays banned. Despite this, the account is lacking in bitterness. Czechoslovakia's leading playwright emerges as a man of profound moral conviction and clarity, a master of "absurd theatre" who, paradoxically, was in 1989 elected president of his country.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
A candid, lively, and affecting self-portrait by the off-imprisoned playwright who became president of Czechoslovakia last December. On the eve of his 50th birthday, Havel consented to respond to a series of interrogatories from Hvizdala, a journalist exiled in West Germany. Wilson (who contributes an absorbing introduction as well as an eminently readable translation) met with the author during the turbulent fall of 1989, but declined to update or add to the text (which was published in Prague under Havel's own samizdat imprint during the summer of 1986). Even so, the result of the trilateral collaboration remains a remarkably powerful exercise in autobiography. With warm tributes for influences and those he loves, Havel looks back on an eventful, engaged life. Surprisingly, he has few bitter memories or evident regrets. What Havel does exhibit throughout, though, is a sense of irony, humanity, and steely purpose. He got his start as a dramatist while serving a hitch in the Czech army, an experience that seems to have served him well in his self-adopted role as an absurdist. Long before the Soviet invasion in 1968 put paid to any notion of an open society, Havel was deeply involved in the literary politics of his country and what in North America would be called off-Broadway theater. During the Iron Curtain era, he paid the dissenter's stiff price - harassment by the police, time behind bars, and the banning of his works. A notable capacity to focus and establish realistic priorities seems to have enabled Havel to outlast hard times and repressive regimes. In confronting Communist functionaries, he recalls, it invariably paid to avoid ideological side issues and "fight only for concrete causes. . ." On occasion, Havel confesses, he yearns to shed the builder's guise and "do what every writer should do, to tell the troth." On the evidence of unpretentious and elegantly constructive, matter-of-fact testimony in his everyman memoir, Havel has made a fine job of both roles. (Kirkus Reviews)