The German translation of the memoir written by Czech playwright and writer Pavel Kohout entitled To byl můj život?? (That Was My Life??) bearing the title Mein tolles Leben mit Hitler, Stalin und Havel (My Wonderful Life with Hitler, Stalin and Havel) has just been published in German-speaking countries. The author chose these three historical personalities deliberately because they had a major impact on his life.
“I was promised a thousand-year-old land by Hitler. I survived him. Stalin pledged to provide eternal times with the Soviet Union. I’ve survived that, too. And I’ve been living with Havel until the present. Those are the three stages of my life,“ says the eighty-two-year- old man of letters during the presentation of his book at the Czech embassy in Berlin. After two autobiographical novels, this is the real autobiography, he says.
The book was published in Czech in two volumes three years ago. The author abridged it into one volume for German readers as well as substantially amending the content. “Primarily I took out all the samples of my works. I didn’t think I should bother German readers with literature,” says the author of more than ten novels and several dozens of plays. “What’s more, the book also accentuates what may be interesting to the German-speaking and German-reading audience. I also omitted things that are typically Czech and don’ t possess any context,” he adds.
Even though the book takes up the form of memoirs, Kohout narrates his eventful life story in third person. “I can make jokes about myself, criticize myself better. It gives me distance while I’m writing,“ he explains this unusual approach to his own memories.
It is not only because of his age that Kohout has plenty to reminisce about. In artistic and private life, he underwent a development from a zealous postwar admirer of the Stalin system through a supporter of the reformist communism of the 60ties to the 1970s dissent movement. He was one of the initiators and signatories of Charter 77.
That was spawned from exhaustion, he says. “We were tired from writing all those petitions and resolutions. I said at that time that we have to write the petitions of all petitions,” he describes his view of this key document of the Czechoslovak anticommunist movement.
Kohout would like to remain in the role of a democrat that he turned into in the seventies. “I don’t think I would leave democracy unless democracy ceased to exist – which is always the danger,” concludes the allegedly most played Czech playwright in the Czech Republic and abroad who has lived in Austria since 1979, when the Communist regime prevented him from returning to his motherland.