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Václav Havel
by Kieran Williams
Reaktion Books, 2016
Paper: 978-1-78023-665-0 | eISBN: 978-1-78023-711-4

Václav Havel claimed to want a quiet life dedicated to writing, but he lived exactly the opposite: as the most famous dissident—via his poetry, plays, and essays—in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule. This biography is the first to pay close attention to Havel’s beginnings as a poet, placing his later, more famous works in the context of his poetical beginnings. In doing so, Kieran Williams sheds new light on Havel’s formative years and the stylistic and philosophical influences that would come to shape one of the most famous Czech writers—and political leaders—of the twentieth century.
            Williams connects the plays for which Havel is best known to his earlier poetry as well as to his development as a writer of profound insight on the arts, his country’s social and political turmoil, and the modern condition at large. He also contextualizes Havel’s oeuvre within his dramatic private life and his ambivalence about being the scion of a patriotic and cosmopolitan Prague family. Reading Havel’s works in Czech alongside his voluminous correspondence, Williams produces a full, rounded picture of a figure of extraordinary artistic and political courage beset with inner paradoxes.                   

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