Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book reviews roundup: Havel: A Life, Everything I Never Told You, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World

What the critics thought of Michael Žantovský’s Havel: A Life, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and George Prochnik’s The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World

Rolilng Stones
The Rolling Stones visit Vaclav Havel in Prague Castle in 1990. Photograph: Corbis
Václav Havel’s career is without compare among those who came to eminence in the last years of communism: playwright, philosopher, dissident, political prisoner and finally president of his country, he combined in his person the greatness of a national saviour with the cheek of a clown.” Roger Scruton in the Times, for whom the Czech leader was clearly a hero, was impressed by Havel: A Life by Michael Žantovský – the author “tells the story with a great flair for detail, almost as though he had stood at Havel’s shoulder, taking notes … Thanks to Žantovský’s truthfulness, Havel emerges from this account as a great national leader whose greatness was inseparable from real humility and grace.” Victor Sebestyen in the Spectator pointed out that Žantovský, “the Czech ambassador to Britain, was Havel’s friend and press spokesman during his first years as president … Žantovský was an elegant writer before he turned diplomat and this is a clear-eyed portrait that never descends into gush or hagiography.” Žantovský’s account of the velvet revolution is “masterly” and he is “brilliant on personal snippets”. “We have the last word on Havel’s true musical tastes – he wasn’t the president of rock’n’roll; he liked easy listening. Havel does not emerge as a saint. Žantovský lists innumerable affairs, one-night stands and drunken binges … As president, he made a fatal mistake: he stayed on the stage too long.”More

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