U.S. author E.L. Doctorow on Vaclav Havel and "Ragtime"

E.L. Doctorow, photo: CTK

One of the guests at the 17th annual Prague Writers' Festival was the critically acclaimed American author E.L. Doctorow. A native of New York, Doctorow's books - including The Book of Daniel and Ragtime - are known for their blend of history and social criticism, and the writer made headlines in 2004 when he criticised the U.S. president George W. Bush.

E.L. Doctorow, photo: CTK
E.L. Doctorow seems to have more time for the former Czech president Vaclav Havel. At a press conference in Prague on Thursday, he recalled making a toast to the playwright and former president.

"I once gave a toast to former president Vaclav Havel, in New York. And I said that he had gone to prison and then become president. But in the United States, our politicians take office first and then they go to prison."

Perhaps E.L. Doctorow's best known work in this part of the world is his 1975 novel Ragtime, mostly set in New York and running from the turn of the century to when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Ragtime is unique for the way it blends three fictional American families with real historical figures, revolving around important ideas and events in U.S. history. E.L. Doctorow - whose family is of Russian Jewish descent - told Radio Prague he was aware of the book's popularity in the former Soviet bloc.

"I do know the book was well received, yes, and popular and meant something to a lot of people. I'm very moved by that. When people express appreciation I'm very moved and very happy to hear that."

American author E.L. Doctorow, talking about one of his most popular works, Ragtime. Film fans among you might know that in 1981 the book was made into a film by the Czech-born director Milos Forman, and featured the actor James Cagney in his last ever film role.

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