In This Review

To the Castle and Back
To the Castle and Back
By Václav Havel
Knopf, 2007, 400 pp

In a clever pastiche perhaps substituting for the autobiography that may never be written, Havel interlaces daily reflections composed in 2005 during a two-month stay in Washington, several weeks at his summer place, Hradecek, and a stay at Hel, on the Baltic, with his responses in an extended interview with Karl Hvizdala, each part interrupted by the record of daily instructions to his staff over most of the ten years he was president of the Czech Republic (1993-2003). The staff instructions deal with the nitty-gritty of governing -- or sometimes only his battle with his personal computer or need to get his cigarette lighter fixed. The carefully paced interview is the book's heart. It covers in detail everything from Havel's view of himself to his relations with colleagues, friends, and foes, from the personal details of his life with his second wife to the string of late-life personal health crises. The reflections are more philosophical and increasingly streaked with the tribulations of a weakening body and mind, but they also contain fond, if sometimes hilarious, observations about Americans. The effect is of three movies running simultaneously and somehow overlapping to produce a whole.