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Ivan Klima's library

As he explains all this, Klima goes to the bookshelves that line his living room and starts pulling down thin volumes, typed double-sided on air-mail paper. "This is one of Havel's plays, this is a volume of Jaroslav Seifert's poetry." A neatly bound history of dissent. "In the end we managed about 300 titles in 18 years," he says. At first the police tried to confiscate individual samizdat copies during house searches but the words spread too quickly; they could not cope. It was a secret policeman's worst nightmare. "It was also," says Klima, "really what kept us going."

Ivan Klima recalls the early 70s

Klima began to fight back against these privations straightaway. "I organised a reading the week after we got back," he says. "I invited about 45 guests, which I'd worked out was the most I could get into our living room. And I prepared meatballs, 'Klima-balls' as they came to be known. There was some wine, and somebody read something that was newly written. That was how it went on, every week. I remember Havel read two of his new plays; Kundera, who was still in Prague at that point, came and read some things." After about a year, Klima's friend Ludvik Vaculik (the author of A Cup of Cof fee with my Interrogator ) brought along a man from Ostrava to one of the gatherings, a writer who had spent a year in prison. The man, who later committed suicide, had signed an agreement in prison to work with the secret police and he passed on the names of everyone who was there, and pictures were taken of people coming in and out. "So from that point," Klima says, "we were known." The writers were followed, and their houses searched. Meetings became more difficult but, Klima says: "We were determined to be in close contact." Someone suggested circulating typewritten pieces of writing, and books, as a way of continuing to spread ideas - samizdat ("self-published"). Novels or poems or plays were typed up - originally by Vaculik's girlfriend - copied, and circulated among the friends, to begin with in editions of 14 copies, later 50 or 60 and eventually, in an underground network of printing and binding and copying, several thousand.