Vaclav Havel publishes first book since leaving Prague Castle

A new book by former president Vaclav Havel has been a big hit with Czech readers, making the best-seller chart within days of its publication. Available only in Czech thus far, Prosim Strucne—which can be translated as "Briefly, please"—may not be what readers expect from the former Czech president.

Ever since Vaclav Havel retired as president of the Czech Republic in 2003, both his fans and his critics have been awaiting something in writing from this literary legend. Those looking for insider bits about Vaclav Havel's years as President will indeed find them in the new book, but readers are also likely to want far more detail.

When he retired in 2003, Vaclav Havel said that he would not try to evaluate his own legacy—that task, he said, falls to the public, and to politicians, journalists, political scientists and historians. Staying true to this position, his first post-presidency book is not an analytical study, nor is it a serious memoir—Vaclav Havel says that he can not write either.

Instead, he's published a collage composed of three main currents. The first is a continuation of the extended interview begun with journalist Karel Hvizdala over 20 years ago; the new questions Karel Hvizdala poses begin in 1986, exactly where the earlier edition "Disturbing the Peace" ends. Then there are excerpts from a diary Vaclav Havel kept while he was a visiting scholar at the US Library of Congress in March and April of 2005. Lastly, the segment of the collection that is the most private: a selection of notes Vaclav Havel sent to his closest associates at Prague Castle between the years 1993 and 2003, reveals both professional and personal moments from the presidential years. Vaclav Havel, photo from the book 'Briefly, please'Vaclav Havel, photo from the book 'Briefly, please'For example, there we have a mini-diary of several foreign trips, including an account of a 1994 stay in Bangkok, Thailand, during which Vaclav Havel regrets he couldn't see Bangkok's erotic district because as a guest of the Thai King, that just wouldn't be appropriate. And meanwhile, the rest of the Czech delegation, including the Minister of Finance, not only went to the seedy district, but had their photos taken there.

Initial reviews of "Prosim, Strucne" have been generally positive. Only Slovak critics recently sent an open letter to Vaclav Havel, objecting to his claim that the break-up of Czechoslovakia was not met with petitions of protest on the part of Slovaks. Those petitions did indeed exist—and signatories numbered more than 300 000 Slovaks—so there is evidence that "Prosim, Strucne" may have been benefited from closer editing. Yet Mr. Havel has already acknowledged this mistake and says that he'll correct the error in future editions, as well as in foreign releases of the book.

English audiences can look forward to "Prosim, Strucne" appearing sometime in late 2006, in translation by Vaclav Havel's long-time Canadian translator, Paul Wilson.