Saturday, May 29, 2021

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth: The Biography, excerpt ten)

from Philip Roth: The Biography by Blake Bailey:

One night at the Budíns’ house, Roth met the novelist and journalist Ludvík Vaculík, a disheveled fellow with a bushy mustache. A lifelong reader of Karl May, the great German chronicler of the American West, Vaculík bet Roth he could name more Indian tribes. “Veequahic?” he said, examining Roth’s list. “Vot is dis Veequahic?” “My high school,” said Roth, who lost by a score of 45-39, and hence was obligated to send Vaculík a copy of Josephy’s Indian Heritage of America. Roth described Vaculík as a “Czechoslovak Solzhenitsyn”: author of the widely translated The Guinea Pigs, Vaculík had demanded more liberal reforms in his “2,000-Word Manifesto,” published in June 1968, a crucial factor in persuading Soviet officialdom that something akin to “counterrevolution” was afoot in the midst of the Prague Spring. Stripped of his rights to travel or publish or receive more than a token of his foreign royalties, Vaculík defiantly started a samizdat press, Edice Petlice (Padlock Editions), which distributed books in editions of a hundred typewritten copies or so, circulated on a rental basis. When the exasperated authorities offered to return his passport and give him rail tickets to leave the country, Vaculík refused. “Why don’t you leave?” he asked them. “It amounts to the same thing.”

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