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August 15, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

SUMMER MEDITATIONS by Vaclav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson (Vintage: $11; 149 pp.). Although equally distrustful of "right-wing dogmatism with its sour-faced intolerance and fanatical faith in general principals" and "left-wing prejudices, illusions and utopias," Havel eloquently defends his belief that all politics must have a moral basis, which he defines as a genuine commitment to human rights: "Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: If it is denied to anyone in the world it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them." Havel also uses these reflections to present a vision of a humane Czech-Slovak federation, an irreverent account of his political career and an explanation of his refusal to sacrifice his principles to remain in power. It is depressingly difficult to imagine an American politician espousing these lofty ideals, or anyone committed to such high-minded goals being elected to office here.

* HIGH HOPES: Young Voices of Eastern Europe edited by Mita Castle-Kanerova (Virago/Trafalgar Square: $13.95; 172 pp.). While Havel saw many of the recent crises in Eastern Europe from center stage, the teen-agers and young adults who wrote the letters in this collection watched them from the wings. Most of the young authors followed the upheavals on television: witnesses to history, one step removed. The most vivid essays were prepared by writers in their early to mid-teens who were less concerned with style than with reporting their drab lives, their impressions of the changes and their hopes--which may or may not be realized.

* THE MAYDAY RAMPAGE by Clayton Bess (Lookout Press , P.O. Box 19131, Sacramento, Calif. 95819; 916-456-6131: $7.95; 197 pp.; paperback original). Bess' bold juvenile novel is written as a pair of intertwined monologues--the taped memoirs of the aggressively intelligent Molly Pierce and the quieter, more conventional Jess Judd. These aspiring journalists attempt to expand the horizons of their high school newspaper by increasing student awareness of AIDS prevention, but are unprepared for the controversy they provoke. By having his characters discuss their findings, Bess manages to incorporate a great deal of information into the narrative without seeming didactic. This unusual novel offers worthwhile reading for young adults--and their parents.

* OF CITIES & WOMEN (Letters to Fawwaz) by Etel Adnan (The Post-Apollo Press: $11; 114 pp., paperback original). The Lebanese author and poet wrote these thoughtful letters in place of an article on feminism and Islamic women for a friend's magazine. Shifting in tone from melancholy to mocking, she mourns the vanished beauties of Beirut, extols the delights of Greece and reflects on the shifting status of women: "Women's liberation is a function of the liberties granted by the societies in which they live, and no gain is definitive. . . . The fight differs from state to state, from neighborhood to neighborhood. The question is not linear, but spherical."

* NATIVE AMERICAN DANCE: Ceremonies and Social Traditions edited by Charlotte Heth (National Museum of the American Indian/Smithsonian Institution/Starwood Publishing: $24.95; 196 pp.). The authors of the essays in this striking book emphasize the continuation of traditions, noting that some dances are changing--as they have in the past--in response to changing circumstances. The widespread belief among American Indians that dance could be a rite of passage, a social commentary or a prayer is embodied in a Tewa song that asks the spirits of the Earth and Sky, "Thus weave for us a garment of brightness/That we may walk fittingly where the birds sing,/That we may walk fittingly where the grass is green."

* THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL EYE edited by Daniel Halpern, illustrated by John Sokol (Ecco Press: $12.95; 299 pp.). The personal memoirs in this collection, commissioned for Antaeus in 1982, span a wide range of experiences. Tennessee Williams describes the disintegration of his alcoholic father; Edouard Roditi explores Parisian lowlife with Hart Crane. Elizabeth Hardwick recounts her fascination with New York City, while Robert Fitzgerald recalls genteel Midwestern life during the early '20s. While many of the individual pieces retain their interest, the anthology would benefit from some updated notes.

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