cover image Letters to Olga

Letters to Olga

Vaclav Havel. Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (397pp) ISBN 978-0-394-54795-4

Czech absurdist playwright Havel defines God as a horizon that gives everything meaning, the possible perimeter of his life. He holds that death permeates our consciousness as destiny. These daring observations were penned during the three years he spent in a Czech prison, from 1979 to 1982, for dissident activity. Allowed to write one letter per week to his wife, Havel eluded the prison censor by resorting to circumlocutions and revealing little about the harsh treatment he endured. Most of his correspondence is tedious reading. Yet, embedded in the muddled philosophizing are eloquent, startling comments about the individual as an anonymous molecule in society, the dynamics of fanaticism, faith, freedom, the chessboard of power politics, the social nature of theater. Havel's unbroken spirit resonates throughout this smoothly translated journey into hell. (March)