Vaclav Havel is one of the most important European writers of our time. In 1979 he was sentenced to four and a half years of hard labour for his involvement in the Czech human rights movement, Charter 77. In prison he was allowed to write to his wife, Olga, once a week. He used the opportunity for profound reflections, on theatre, society and philosophy. These letters form a remarkable document, and a work of lasting value.
'From Havel, we learn that the true heroes of our time are those who stay the course.' Bruce Chatwin
Clapped into prison, Czech playwright Havel spent three years in captivity for his human-rights efforts in Czechoslovakia. What he did with some of his time is evident in the letters he wrote to his wife Olga. These are letters not only of daily testimony of prison and the wobbling relationship the prisoner has with reality (Havel is always reproaching Olga for not writing enough - and yet a letter after one of her visits will invariably mourn the flinty atmosphere, the lack of harmony, the too-much-was-expectedness of the meeting), but also of a prison-grown existentialism, a full-blown prolegomena of Being that Havel massively shovels Olga's way in nearly every letter. At first this philosophical avalanche is human-sized - mini-essays on each of Havel's prison moods, good and bad - but then it truly snowballs: "The absurdity of being at the intersection of this dual state of 'thrownness,' or rather this dual expulsion, can understandably give a person a reason (or an excuse) for giving up. He may also, however, accept it as a unique challenge enjoined upon his freedom, a challenge to set out - by virtue of all his thrownness - on a multisignificational journey between Being and the world. . ." As philosphy - for what these letters actually have to say - the sort of awe-filled existentialism Havel works out is nothing so new. As a vast project of optimism (heroic and also comically monstrous), they are, however, thoroughly remarkable. (Kirkus Reviews)