To the Castle and Back by Václav Havel (Translated by Paul Wilson) - review by David Pryce-Jones

David Pryce-Jones

From Dissident to President

To the Castle and Back


Portobello Books 400pp £20

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.

When Soviet Communism collapsed, nobody in Czechoslovak public life had anything like the standing of Havel. The transformation of a dissident into President of a free and independent state has a legendary quality that will always be enthralling. At last, hopes were met, and the power of the Castle was

Sign Up to our newsletter

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

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend