Milan Kundera

There’s a story in the NY Times today about accusations that the writer Milan Kundera collaborated with the Czechoslovak secret police in the early 50s and ousted a western intelligence agent. These accusations are oddly similar to his first novel, “The Joke” and the story is definitely worth checking out.

Living in Prague, I was always struck but how many Czechs disliked two of their most well-known countrymen, Kundera and the dissident/playwright-turned-President, Vaclav Havel. Havel was disliked because, at least in my mind, he symbolized the reality of post-communist life after the utopic dreams stirred up by the Velvet Revolution (which go back to Prague Spring in 1968). But Kundera was generally disdained by his fellow Czechs because he found success abroad and is now a French citizen. The Czechs are some of the most gloomy, brooding people around and they can hold a grudge like no other nationality. Kundera’s recent book “Ignorance” talks about the return of a Czech exile from France and the frosty reaction she receives from her friends after several decades away. These friends don’t really want to hear about her life abroad, finding her life a threat to their conception of themselves and how they have lived. I think anyone who has spent time abroad, or at least far from their home, can relate to these sentiments.

I probably wouldn’t posted just based on reading this story, but I spent last night with a friend of mine who just moved back from Prague after a dozen years there, and a friend who just moved back from Paris after seven years there. I actually talked with the post-France friend about “Ignorance” last night and recommended it to her as we talked about adjusting to life back in the US, which includes the weird experience of slowly beginning to blend into the crowd after having spending years of constantly standing out in any room just because you were foreign. Aside from the questions of identity that go into where we are from and how it defines us, the story about Kundera–and so much of his writing–have to do with reckoning with the past. There are so many parallels to that, both personal and on a larger level (national/global, related to conflicts or the recent horrors of the past).

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