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20 Feb 2020 19:00

A Czech Dreambook: Dissent as an Everyday Experience

*** PANEL DISCUSSION & BOOK LAUNCH *** It’s 1979 in Communist Czechoslovakia and the banned writer Ludvík Vaculík – whose anti-regime manifesto was used by the Soviet Union as a pretext for invading Czechoslovakia – has writer’s block. He begins to keep a diary ‘about things, people and events.’ The result is a unique mixture of diary, dream journal and outright fiction, in which the author, his family, his mistresses, and leading characters of the Czech underground, such as Václav Havel, Jaroslav Seifert, Ivan Klíma, Pavel Kohout, Jiří Kolář, and Daňa Horáková (all using their real names) play major roles, bringing their dilemmas and decisions to life for contemporary readers. Appearing in English translation for the first time, forty years after Vaculík finished the book, this genre-defying and utterly compelling masterpiece serves as an account of life under constant surveillance – something highly relevant today.

Join the Czech Centre London and English PEN as Gerald Turner, Vaculík’s translator, Daňa Horáková, former dissident writer, and Jonathan Bolton, author of Worlds of Dissent, discuss Vaculík’s compelling portrait of dissident life, literary testimony in times of oppression, and the role of women in dissent. Chaired by Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship.

Tickets: £6/£4 concessions (including a drink).

Books on sale from Karolinum Press. 

Presented in collaboration with the Enlish PEN and Karolinum Press.

Photography © Ludvík Vaculík – heirs



“An unclassifiable book – history as memoir, through the imagination of an artist.” 
Tom Stoppard 

“A novel about hope and hopelessness, about ever-present danger, about the strange dreamlike quality of life in a totalitarian system, about the absurdity of present-day “civilized” living, about losing a home and the disintegration of time and human identity, about love, about nature, about courage, about fear, about death.” 
Václav Havel

 “a truly profound and perceptive account… a great novel about modern life and the crisis of contemporary humanity.”
Václav Havel

A Czech Dreambook, translated by Gerald Turner, with an Afterword by Jonathan Bolton, Karolinum Press 2019, 572 pages


Ludvík Vaculík (1926–2015) is one of the giants of Czech dissident literature. He began his writing career as a radio journalist, feuilletonist and member of the Communist party. Having grown disillusioned, in 1968 he published his ‘Two Thousand Words’, a manifesto attacking the regime which played a strong role in convincing the Soviet leadership to invade Czechoslovakia. Banned from writing, and subjected to regular interrogations and house searches, Vaculík turned to writing samizdat and publishing the work of other banned writers in his own underground press Edice Petlice (Padlock Editions), smuggling texts abroad for foreign publication. His works include The Axe (1966), The Guinea Pigs (1970), A Czech Dreambook (1980), A Cup of Coffee with My Interrogator: The Prague Chronicles of Ludvik Vaculik (1987).


Jonathan Bolton is a Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, focusing on Czech literature, history, and culture. His book Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism (Harvard UP) is considered the definitive English history of Czech dissident culture.

Daňa Horáková is a German-Czech journalist, writer, and a former Hamburg Minister of culture. A Signatory to Charter 77, she was part of the dissident circle around writer Ludvík Vaculík and playwright Václav Havel with whom she edited the samizdat book series Edice Expedice illegally publishing the work of fellow dissidents. She married film director Pavel Juráčeek and was forced to leave Czechoslovakia in 1979 settling in Germany.  In 2018 she received the Václav Benda Award for bravery in the fight against communism. Her memoir book 36 or About Pavel will be published in March 2020.

Gerald Turner has been one of the leading translators of the Czech language since the early 1980s and has translated writers such as Václav Havel, Ivan Klíma, Milan Šimečka, and Patrik Ouředník.  From 2004–2011 he was personal translator to the playwright and President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel.

Rachael Jolley is the award-winning editor of Index on Censorship magazine, to which Ludvik Vaculik and Vaclav Havel regularly contributed, and editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship. She has written for newspapers and websites in the UK and internationally (including The Times, the Financial Times, The Telegraph, Irish Times, Big Issue, New Statesman and The Guardian). She has been editorial director at think tank British Future, managing editor for monthly magazine Business Traveller, and editor of Business Traveller Middle East. She was a judge at the Rory Peck journalism awards, regularly speaks at the Hay Festival, and has also spoken at the Prague Book Fair. She co-wrote the play Murdering The Truth (Greenwich Theatre). She is currently a visiting fellow in journalism at Sheffield University.



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20 Feb 2020 19:00


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