Milan Kundera’s commie past
When I was a teenager, I discovered author Milan Kundera. His books, particularly The Unbearable Lightness of Being, seemed to brim with a wry wisdom about life and love that I hadn’t yet developed for myself. I was eager to be smart back then and Kundera’s novels with their communist Czechoslovakian settings, intrigued me an expanded my world view.
Kundera wrote scornfully of communism and what it did to a man’s soul. His protagonists always held fervent anti-totalitarianism views. His books are rife with themes involving freedom and betrayal. All of them deal with the power of memory.
So, it’s with interest that I’m hearing the buzz of recently discovered news about Kundera the man. Seems that in 1950, when Kundera was 20, he took it upon himself to go to the Czech secret police and alerted them to a friend of a friend who was spying for Western intelligence. The police arrested the spy and he spent 14 years in prison.
Kundera sputtered out a denial of the allegations, however, documented evidence exists from police reports.
Many people are already comparing Kundera’s 1950 breach with Nobel Prize-winning author Gunther Grass‘s shocking disclosure two years ago that prior to his lifelong stint serving as Germany’s moral compass, he served in Hitler’s SS in World War II.
The best piece I’ve found written about the whole affair is this one from The American Prospect. Its author Richard Byrne rightfully imagines how Kundera’s work, particularly 1967’s The Joke and 1992’s Testaments Betrayed, could be reread in light of this knowledge. (Kundera wrote honestly of his early embrace of communism in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting).
Byrne asks larger, more important questions about good, evil, and morality – about the youthful enthusiasm for harmony and untested trust in leaders – putting Kundera’s act into context with world politics at the time. One thing’s certain, Kundera is on trial right now. Should he be?