By Paul Wilson
“…he’s incapable of wasting words. Even the laundry memos are just about criminally fascinating.”
Carefully translated into the English by confidant Paul Wilson, this is an astonishingly candid account from the acclaimed, dissident playwright elected President after the dramatic Czechoslovakian Velvet Revolution — one of the most respected political figures of our time.
In this most intimate memoir, he writes about his transition from outspoken dissident and political prisoner to a player on the international stage in 1989 as newly elected president of Czechoslovakia after the ousting of the Soviet Union, and, in l993, as president of the newly formed Czech Republic.
Havel gives full rein to his impassioned stance against the devastation wrought by communism, but the scope of his concern in this engrossing memoir extends far beyond the circumstances he faced in his own country. Translator Paul Wilson skillfully retains Havel’s voice and reveals all the subtleties and nuances of this complex character. The book is full of anecdotes of his interactions with world figures (from meditation with the Dali Lama to partying with Bill and Hilary Clinton). He shares his thoughts on the future of the European Union, as well as why he has come to change his mind about the war in Iraq, and he discusses the political and personal reverberations he faces because of his initial support of the invasion. He writes with equal intelligence and candour about subjects as diverse as the arrogance of western power politics, the death of his first wife and his own battle with lung cancer.
Woven through are internal memos he wrote during his presidency that take us behind the scenes of the Prague Castle – the government’s seat of power – showing the internal workings of the office and revealing Havel’s mission to act as his country’s conscience, and even, at times, its chief social convenor.
Written and translated with characteristic eloquence, wit and well-honed irony combined with an unfailing sense of wonder at the course his life has taken, To the Castle and Back is a revelation of one of the most important political figures of our time.
“Only Havel, unlike Bellow, repeats himself as a matter of art, and instead of finding yourself irritated at the editors over these repetitions, you find yourself applauding the faithful labor that Paul Wilson, Havel’s English-language translator, has performed for many years. ”
–The New York Times
“Havel the writer emerges in quirky little diary asides…”
–What’s on Winnipeg
“…Mr. Havel has tossed together official chronicle, satire, score-settling, self-lacerating apologia and wise thoughts on statecraft with merry disregard for timelines or tiny exposition. Out of the apparent chaos, a pattern emerges. By the end you will have a remarkable feel for Mr. Havel’s intricate personality.”
“To the Castle and Back is far from a typical biography- it is deeper, more idiosyncratic and complex.”
–The Prague Post
“Havel demonstrates his gift for writing and offers revealing commentary on a number of public figures.”
Knopf, Canada, May 2007
Knopf, US, May 2007
Portobello Books, UK, January 2008