David Pryce-Jones

From Dissident to President

To the Castle and Back

By

Portobello Books 400pp £20 order from our bookshop

Prague Castle has been a seat of government for centuries. Through Franz Kafka and his creation, the victimised Joseph K, this majestic Czech national monument came to stand as a symbol of the limitless abuse of power. When the Communists had their turn in the Castle, they embodied the terror that Kafka had only imagined as a nightmare.

Václav Havel was an unlikely opponent to the Communists. It was almost fatal for him that he came from a family of former capitalists. Mild and somewhat shambolic in manner, he seemed a figure typical of the 1960s, an intellectual rather than a politician, the author of plays that could appeal only to an elite few, and mostly in other countries. In 1968, however, the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies invaded Prague to put a stop to any idea of reforming Communism. Havel was to insist that the Party should conform to the laws it proclaimed, and grant the rights that went with them. Consistently persecuted for this, he served a total of five years in prison. His stubbornness, and his thoughtful accounts of what he had to endure and why, made him a model dissident admired the whole world over.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It would be nice to think that women will achieve equal pay in my lifetime, rather than to watch gloomily as stati… ,
    • In 1660, two of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant fled across the Atlantic to New England. But were… ,
    • Howard Jacobson's sixteenth novel is 'a love story of sorts, one characterised not by physical desire or even conta… ,
    • 'The sudden immersion in the new and unfamiliar can lead people to write with a rare lack of self-consciousness' P… ,
    • 'Pools bend the rules. Clothes slip off, skin glistens, consciousness heightens. A dreamlike scenario unfolds' Jam… ,
    • 'Although he surely didn’t know W H Auden’s theory that every high C proclaims human freedom and our capacity to tr… ,
    • RT : With beginning tomorrow, we've uncovered a 1997 article from the archive reviewing 'Golf Dream… ,