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Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Huizdala Paperback – April 3, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Havel discusses his transformation from absurdist playwright to activist to president of Czechoslovakia in interviews conducted during 1985 and 1986 by exiled journalist Hvizdala. "Mingling autobiography with discussions of politics, literature and theater, his ruminations add up to a disarming and involving self-portrait," said PW .
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In 1986, as his 50th birthday approached, then-dissident Czech playwright Havel submitted to a mail interview with exiled Czech journalist Hvizdala. The essays written as answers for that interview, here translated into English, range over all aspects of a varied life: Havel's childhood in a bourgeois family in Prague during the 1930s, as well as his unusual education--adolescent intellectual circles in the 1950s, experimental theater, and Charter 77 activities. A complex portrait emerges of a man long involved with his community and his state because he considers such involvement a moral imperative. With Havel as president of a newly organized Czechoslovakia since December 1989, expect interest in this title. Highly recommended for all libraries. Previewed as Long Distance Interrogation , Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/90.
- Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 3, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679734023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679734024
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #230,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Whenever I need a moral boost I go back and reread Vaclav Havel's
"Disturbing the Peace". This book is a series of essays by the
dissident Vaclav Havel that were smuggled out of communist
Czechoslovakia and translated by a Havel friend in the West. Vaclav
Havel was a playwright who became a Czech dissident who became leader
of the Velvet revolution (which ousted the communists) and who finally
became president of the republic.
Vaclav Havel was the foremost
dissident under the communist regime. He openly challenged the ruling
government with such essays as "Power to the Powerless" and
"The Soul of Main under Communism". (Actually I forgot the name
of the latter essay. I think "The Soul of Man under Communism"
is an essay written by Oscar Wilde. But Havel did address this theme
in "Disturbing the Peace" and in essays he forwarded to the
communist rulers.)
One of the most exciting parts of the book is
where Havel describes the dissident communitie's efforts to publish a
Havel essay advocating that the Czech government adhere to the terms
of the Charter 77 human rights accord to which they were a signatory.
The story is spine tingling thriller complete with car chases and
obscure drop points. It reads like a John le Carre novel except it is
After you read "Disturbing to Peace" I also recommend
"The Magic Lanten" by Timothy Garton Ash. This is a first hand
account of the fall of the communism as the democratic revolution
rolled across Czechoslovakia, East German, Hungary, and Romania.
Garton Ash was privy to the inner circle of people who plotted and
executed these bloodless coups. (Bloodless everywhere except, of
course, in Romania.)
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Format: Paperback
We Americans tend to forget that Vaclav Havel was an Artist, poet, writer and existentialist thinker long before we seized upon him as our own private "anti-communist hero extraordinaire." And as with most other things, we in the West tended to "fixate" on Havel as just the one-man anti-Communist sideshow: the singleton hero of the Prague Spring. That is to say, we saw in him only what we wanted to see -- only what was comfortable for our myopic vision and only what tended to calm our democratic sensibilities. For had we looked and drank just a bit deeper, there was a lot more of this self-made "artist turned political activist," to see than just our knee-jerk recreation of him through our own eyes as our own larger-than-life anti-Communist hero.

This book offers another vision of him that looks deeper into his very troubled, but nevertheless very important soul. Having had this book on my bookshelf, left unread for almost 20 years, this oversight alone makes me as guilty of seeing only the "shadow Havel as anti-Communist caricature," as the rest.

In this very thoughtful series of autobiographical interviews, the "deeper Vaclav Havel," comes through loudly and clearly. And here I mean of course the one just beyond the popular anti-Communist Western created veneer. Havel has always used his very subtle, supple and artistic mind to become more than just an Anti-Communist firebrand. In the grand tradition of other Europeans, and more than anything else, he is an existentialist humanist thinker, with much practical advice for democrats. However his primary concerns have never been just with the fetishized political games that superpowers play.
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Format: Paperback
Other reviews are right on the money in terms of this being a very good book and of course it covers many key elements of the events and times during the changes in Czechoslovakia. However the are several key messages, and lessons for anyone interested in managing, motivating and leading people; particularly through difficult or uncharted changes. There are also some good reflections on the role, character and nature of theater and other individual and group activities in the arts.
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Edit of 17 Apr 08 to add links.

This book should be read as an adjunct to the author's other major book along these lines on power to the powerless.

The most gripping and troubling conclusion that I drew from this book is that the United States of America is today much closer to where Czechoslovakia was in 1968 than anyone other than the Chomsky's and Vidal's might be willing to admit. We have both a federal government and a national corporate economy that thrives on elitist secrecy and blatant lies--even our non-profit sector is corrupt, from the Red Cross to United Way to many others. The people, the citizen-voters, truly have lost all power, as well as access to the information that might give them back the power, and this is indeed a black, absurdist-realist situation.

On a more positive note, the author offers up, in the course of a long series of interviews, a number of ideas that are relevant to America today, as well as to any other emerging or re-emergent democracies in the making.

1) Model of behavior. When arguing with the center of power, do not get side-tracked with ideological debates over right or wrong. Focus on very specific concrete things (e.g. term limits, campaign finance reform, neighborhood economics) and stick to your guns.

2) Popular coalitions. Non-violent non-partisan popular coalitions are the core means of taking back the power. They represent a means for bring together groups of people from widely divergent backgrounds, with genuine social tolerance.

3) Informal networks. Even under conditions of repression and censorship, informal networks of dissidents and quasi-dissidents can be effective in sharing information through samizdat publications.
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