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Vaclav Havel


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As a Communist-era dissident, successful playwright and leader of Czechoslovakia's velvet revolution and democratic government, Vaclav Havel is a timely and deserving subject for biography. Unfortunately, while Keane's authorized study fills some gaps, it is not the biography many have been waiting for. For those who seek the basic outline, this volume provides ample (though select) material on Havel's prominent prewar family, his marriages and numerous affairs, and his political and literary activities over the years. But this is, by no means, for the casual reader. It strives to be much more than an ordinary biography, and it doesn't succeed. Its major flaws are that, first, Keane takes an idiosyncratic approach to biography, insisting on viewing Havel as the emblematic 20th-century man, and second, that he has an awkward rhetorical style. Keane offers us the story of Havel's life not as a linear narrative but as a series of tableaux vivants "designed to heighten readers' sense that his actions in the world are understandable as a tragedy." The tragedy is that of a man who "suffered the misfortune of being born into the twentieth century... [and whose] fate was politics." While to Keane, editor of a collection of Havel's writing and biographer of Tom Paine, this formulation is convincing, many readers will find it too restricting. This exaggerated conceit of writing about Havel as a character in a Shakespearean tragedy, which depends on inflated prose and frequent references to the role of fate, climaxes in a tasteless finale, a macabre rendering of the tragedy's end in Havel's (future) funeral. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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