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Letters from Prison [Paperback]

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Item description for Letters from Prison by Gerald Turner Milan Simecka...

Milan Simecka was one of the most widely translated dissidents opposing the Communist regime in the former Czechoslovakia. Many of his essays and articles appeared in leading American and British periodicals during the 1970s and 80s, and his book, The Restoration of Order (1984), is considered a brilliant analysis of the communist regimesssssssss neo-Stalinist normalization policy. Simecka was imprisoned from 1981-1982 under Paragraph 98 of the Criminal Code (Subversion of the Republic). His crime: smuggling his texts out of the country to be published abroad. The letters in this volume were written during this stay in prison. In them he was not allowed to mention politics, so he wrote about people and human relations. The selection of letters in this volume, written to his family, form a series of meditations on the nature of existence and articulate a moral philosophy of decency in the face of adversity. They are a timeless document of the freedom of the human spirit when confronted with intolerance and the repression of ideas.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   172
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.07" Width: 5.76" Height: 0.61"
Weight:   0.52 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 1, 2002
Publisher   Twisted Spoon Press
ISBN  8086264033  
ISBN13  9788086264035  

Availability  0 units.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Letters & Correspondence
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > General
4Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > Ideologies > Communism & Socialism
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > Reference

Reviews - What do customers think about Letters from Prison?

What can I do but wish them all well?  Nov 28, 2003
A previous customer reviewer has written on the historical context and Simecka's life story. I won't repeat that here. So, just five reasons why it's such a moving read.

First just because he comes across as such a good man. His lack of envy (p28, p58 - the title of this review is his reaction to hearing fellow prisoners have been released before him), simplicity (p21, p33 and the closing sentences), warmth (eg his description of his brother p46ff) etc.

I admired his psychology - the need to foster positive thoughts (p5); the restorative power of memory (pp22-29, 52-3) imagination (pp67-69) and sunlight (p59); man's need for nature (p9-11, pp56-7) and his own resilience in the face of loss of status (p50-1).

I loved his enthusiasm for literature too, though I must admit I was surprised to find good old Swallows and this sites in there (p61)! What he says about the telling detail (p20) rings true. And his own letters are full of them: anecdotes (the memories of childhood bathtimes and the soap with the train card in it) and images ("the truths that I have to hold onto, like the handrail in the tram, to stop being thrown from side to side", "two realities sniff each other like a couple of dogs").

I was also moved by the insights into how it felt to be a dissident - the rediscovered camaraderie (p76), the effects on children (pp16-17), the relationship between prisoner and interrogator (89-90).

The theoretical part of the nature of reality section was a bit beyond me at times but I was very struck by the description in the latter half of human reality as a spherical space (102), the importance of creativity in shaping that reality (110), and of treating each others' realities with tolerance and respect (121,126).

There's something distinctive about prison literature. Maybe it's to do with the bleak circumstances which permit no pretence. Or maybe the sense of witnessing the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Or maybe the way letters from prison to loved ones, written when all normal contacts are broken, lay bare the anatomy of relationships in a different way from any other genre. But even in a distinctive genre this book is special.

Simecka writes in one letter (p19) of how he identifies a great literary work: "Whenever I detect some note, a slight trembling of the soul, a touch of beauty, some little novelty, whatever it is that transforms lines of text into literature, I feel it like the wind in my face, like the warmth in my stomach after a glass of wine, simply as something that defies description but exists nonetheless." When I finished this collection, that was just the way I felt.

"It would be good if he could have stayed with us..."  May 8, 2002
A quiet understatement about the author of these letters from prison, from Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic. And then how about this very telling quote from Simecka, Havel's advisor for Czech-Slovak relations: "It would seem that people have a greater immunity to unification than to viral infections."
Wise words from one of the foremost experts and prolific authors of Soviet marxism: Milan Simecka. Initially enthusiastic about socialism as a governing body, feeling it could move society towards a more utopian state, Simecka (who studied philosophy and literature at university) began his teaching career lecturing on marxism in 1954 at Comenius University in Bratislava. Over time, he and other Czechoslovak intellectuals became disillusioned with the Party and were eventually expelled. In 1968, he was fired from his university post and forced to work at various unskilled labor jobs.
Simecka denounced Soviet-brand marxism--(which he refers to in the book as "existing socialism')--in fact--all ideologies, defining them as "the real scourges of humanity..." He began to participate in dissident activities against the State, including writing and publishing treatise against totalitarianism, saying "I now advocate tolerance for all peoples."
His writings were smuggled out of Czechoslovakia into the West and Simecka gradually earned an international reputaiton as a renown interpreter of totalitarian regimes. Soviet authorities imprisoned him in the infamous Ruzyne prison in Prague in 1981, where he remained for 13 months. Letters from prison is a collection of 30 surviving letters from that era. Since prisoners were forbidden to write about politics, Simecka's letters to his wife, Eva, centered around either family concerns or long philosophical musings (his son, author Martin Simecka, figures prominently in the first section).
Although his letters were routinely censored, Simecka still managed to throw in a few oblique insults at his captors. Included throughout the book are several b&w photos featuring Simecka with family members or political figures.
As he was fluent in both the Czech and Slovak languages, Vaclav Havel appointed him to be his advisor on Czech-Slovak relations in 1990. Immediately after the Velvet Revolution, voices advocating for the "divorce' of Czecho-Slovakia demanded to be heard; Simecka was said to have been devastated by this separatist fervor.
Just six months into his new post, Simecka died suddenly of a heart tattack. Gordon Skilling, an expert on Czecho-Slovak affairs (recently deceased, himself), believed that "Milan Simecka contributed much to the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia."
This collection of letters greatly adds to the growing body of Slovak literature under totalitarian order. There is a biographical section on Simecka at the end of the book (would have been better to place it in the beginning) and a note from the translator, Gerald Turner. Turner, whom some readers will more quickly recognize by his nom de plume, "AG Brain," did an excellent, professional job in translating these detailed, sometimes abstract, rambling epistles from prison.

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