Two great books suggested by Amy, a bookworm and anthropologist who does field work in the Czech Republic, are Vaclav Havel’s To the Castle and Back, and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Havel was a playwright, political prisoner and, after the Velvet Revolution, president of Czechoslovakia. To the Castle and Back is an interesting memoir that mixes past and present, his Czech experiences and his travels, including much humorous commentary about the USA. I first learned about Havel after he died, from an interesting Tampa Bay Times op-ed by John Coggin that describes how he inspired Lawton Chiles to run for governor of Florida. Havel and Chiles also shared a melancholy streak (like Abe Lincoln and many other great leaders), a trait that Havel is very forthcoming about in this book, which makes me appreciate it all the more.
Kundera’s novel is a fascinating treatment of oppression and resistance during post-WWII Soviet occupation and the Prague Spring (the same period that inspired and troubled Havel). The Unbearable Lightness of Being is also a wonderfully intriguing deconstruction of compassion, kitsch and a dozen or so other “misunderstood words,” and simultaneously a fantastic exploration of love, lust and “the pursuit of the unimaginable.” It is an intense read, and delightfully so.
I am still seeking literature about “tramping,” a concept to which I was exposed during a fantastic 12-day canoe trip on the Teslin River with my friend Jan’s family and about 60 of their Czech and Slovak comrades. Yes, it was a big group. Thankfully, it was a big river in an even bigger countryside (Canada’s Yukon Territory). But that’s a whole other story for a different post…