cover image On Tolerance: Czech Writers

On Tolerance: Czech Writers

Vaclav Havel. Readers International, $11.95 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-930523-63-3

The title held promise: exploring the link between literature and tolerance. But these unevenly translated contributions by past and present members of the Czech Center of International P.E.N. are hit-and-miss. Vaclav Havel's compelling essay on collective hatred amid today's rising European nationalism is well served by its elegant translation. In one of the more successful short stories, Jaroslav Vejvoda's ``Class in Session in B.,'' a teacher brings unruly kids from various national and ethnic backgrounds to a place on a river where the borders of three countries converge. The children clash, and the teacher is pessimistic about what happens when the minority fears the majority, the old fear the young, the little fear the big, and the weak fear the strong. One suspects that most readers would rather see more from past president Karel Capek or a longer excerpt from Josef Skvoreck and somewhat less of Lum r Civrn's turgid history of 70 years of the Czech P.E.N. Club. Clearly the club has survived some tragic circumstances, but only a very few want to read 100 pages on them. Perhaps novelist Ivan Klima links the two concepts best: ``Obviously the limits of tolerance and intolerance in literature cannot be set from the outside; no measures or definitions can be found. Only thoughtfulness and responsibility on the part of those who write can determine the limits.'' Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)