Havel: A Life, and more

Just in from a bike ride, unaccustomed thighs aching. A lovely morning, the green unfurling at last. I hadn’t intended to wait until (visible) spring to show up at my blog again, but that’s how it turned out, and I was thinking about that too while I pedalled, and about some reading experiences I’d like to share.

Since my daughter and I are planning a trip to the Czech Republic, I enjoyed Havel: A Life by Michael Zantovsky, a new biography of Vaclav Havel. I was alerted to it by Michael Ignatieff’s fine summary of the man and book in The Atlantic. A biography has to succeed on two levels for me: the subject must be compelling and the life well written. This one ranks high on both counts. Zantovsky was a friend and colleague; his work is affectionate and insightful but never hagiographical. The poet/playwright/philosopher turned president was as flawed as he was noble; he helmed the Velvet Revolution, but could not prevent the breakup of Czechoslovakia. He was a man of great vision who fussed about details like office curtains. Most astonishing–and inspiring–to me was Havel’s ongoing introspection, which power couldn’t shake out of him. “Being in power,” he said, in fact, “makes me permanently suspicious of myself.” Continue reading