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Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982 Paperback – April, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

During his three-year imprisonment for human rights activities, Czech dissident and leading playwright Havel was allowed to write nothing but one letter a week to his wife. In these 144 letters that made it through the prison censor, Havel meditates on theatre, religion, and philosophy; his personal world-view; the meaning of his actions; and the issues of human identity and personal responsibility in modern society. The letters, excellently translated, are a unique and moving document of the struggle by a man of formidable moral strength to preserve his dignity and identity in the most difficult conditions. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 397 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co (P); First Edition edition (April 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805009736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805009736
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #517,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on March 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
Havel is a hero of the Czech struggle for political freedom. These letters are written while he is serving a four - year sentence. He was allowed to write one letter per week, and these are letters he wrote to his wife Olga. They reportedly do not contain the details of the most severe treatment he was given. The letters after all are censored. They show Havel to be a concerned, dedicated husband and 'thinking person' who is trying to not only get through the prison term without falling apart but understand in a better way the meaning of his own situation. They are informed by a strong sense of responsibility which is reenforced when his brother Ivan sends him writings of the philosopher Levinas. These writings focus on the idea that one can know and be responsible for oneself only when one knows and is responsible for the 'other'. Havel in these letters appears mature, sober and sane. What is surprising however is that the Letters are without great poetic passion. There is not a sense of overwhelming love between him and his wife. Much of the writing is concerned with details of everyday life, of how to practically get through the prison term. My sense is their real importance is in revealing the political and philosophical thought of Havel.
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4 of 18 people found the following review helpful By courtney J angermeier on May 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
First of all, I just gotta say "Don't you love those Czechs?" I mean what other country would have a poet/playwrite/activist/ex-con president? Sorta makes me want to emigrate. Anyway, Havel's volume of letters to his wife, Olga, from prison in the late seventies is quietly revealing. I am used to his electric political comentaries and dark absurdist theater and this hollow correspondence came as a shock. Perhaps, most of all it was the shallow loveless relationship between he and Olga that surprised me. In my mind Havel is a passionate larger-than-life figure. I wanted, and expected, to discover a living and organic relationship in these pages and was utterly disapointed in that respect. What we see, and aparantly what they have (had? I dunno) is very dry, businesslike, and unmoving. I wonder if expending so much energy in the public and artistic sphere leaves little or nothing for private relationships. Perhaps that's what's going on, perhaps it is more complex or subtle. Whatever the reasons, the book was interesting as well as dissapointing in that it revealed a totally new and unexpected side of Havel. This book humanized him. As well as the troubled, or maybe just bizarre marraige, I got to hear him struggle with his daily frustrations and desires-food, health, writing, keeping himself educated and interested in life. There IS a good bit of of political writing in the letters, (it's pretty obvious that most of them were not just for Olga)including some detailed descriptions of the resistance movement, that are really as fine as any of his other writings. I could put it down to the dustjacket, but the whole had to me this sad tan feeling; heavy, still-like empty dusty rooms at that time of day where the light is all saturated. Well written and translated, all in all an interesting read.
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