Havel: A Life by Michael Žantovský review – ‘an imperfect man, like the rest of us’
Source: The Guardin / By PD Smith /
An honest and moving portrait that reveals the man’s faults as well as his undoubted greatness.
Even as a teenager, Václav Havel thought it vital to be true to yourself: “to open the eyes to one’s own heart”, as he wrote in a letter. It became his motto. In this biography, Michael Žantovský – who knew Havel during the Velvet Revolution and became his spokesman during his presidency – doesn’t gloss over the dark side of his subject: the depression, drinking, prescription drugs and affairs. Havel described himself as “an alleged hero but secretly a bundle of nerves”. For Žantovský he was “an imperfect man, like the rest of us”. Indeed, this was part of his appeal both as a writer and a politician: “even his flaws were real”. The co-founder of Charter 77 confessed to being “too polite to be a good dissident”. But in Wenceslas Square in December 1989 it was to Havel that his fellow citizens turned. He told them “love and truth must prevail over lies and hatred”, and as president he deftly handled the transformation of Czechoslovakia from totalitarian rule to democracy. Žantovský admits to a deep affection for Havel but his biography is an honest and moving portrait that reveals the man’s faults as well as his undoubted greatness.