Ivan Klíma 1931-
(Also rendered as Ivan Klima) Czech novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, critic, and children's writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Klíma's career through 2002. For more information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 56.
Klíma belongs to the generation of Czech writers who lived through two totalitarian regimes—Nazism and communism. In his creative work, Klíma focuses heavily on autobiographical material, invoking images of the past with keenly observed realistic details. He frequently returns to his own experiences living under the two regimes and the overall moral questions they posed for humanity. Outspoken in his criticism of Czechoslovakia's communist government, Klíma was expelled from the Communist Party and his works were banned from publication following the suppression in 1968 of the Prague Spring reform movement. As a result, many of his works first appeared in typewritten volumes with homemade bindings—the so-called samizdat editions—or in German translation before being published in Czech. After the fall of communism in the late 1990s, the ban on Klíma's work was lifted and he has since enjoyed a resurgence of critical and popular attention within the Czech Republic and abroad.
Klíma was born in Prague on September 14, 1931, to Ing Vilém and Marta Klíma. Although Klíma was baptized as a Catholic, his mother was Jewish, causing Klíma to be sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Bohemia by the Nazis in December 1941. Klíma spent three and a half years in the camp before he was released. After World War II, he attended secondary school in Prague, later studying Czech language and literature at Charles University. Klíma worked as an editor at the Ceskoslovensky Spisovatel publishing house from 1956 to 1963. On September 24, 1958, he married Helena Malá, a sociologist, with whom he has two children. From 1969 to 1970, Klíma served as deputy and editor-in-chief for Literarni noviny, the weekly publication of Czechoslovakia's Union of Writers. Klíma was in London en route to the University of Michigan for a one-year teaching appointment when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in 1969. Klíma had the opportunity to live in exile like many other Czechoslovakian intellectuals but decided to return to his home country in the spring of 1970 to resist the Communist regime. His work was immediately banned by the government and he was placed under surveillance by the police. Klíma and a group of fellow writers, including Vaclav Havel, Ludvik Vaculik, Milan Uhde, and Pavel Kohout, began publishing their work in samizdat editions, privately copied works that were secretly distributed in small quantities. During this period, Klíma earned his living writing articles and essays for foreign publications. He also worked temporarily as a street cleaner in Prague in order to escape the confinement of his home and as a means to conduct research for his novel Láska a smetí (1987; Love and Garbage).
Klíma's earliest fiction is collected in the short story volumes Bezvadný den (1960) and Milenci na jednu noc (1964; Lovers for a Day). His first novel, Hodina ticha (1963), concerns the futile attempts at organization by a group of Czech farmers upon discovering the government's plan to seize their land for collectivization. Klíma's first book to be translated into English, Lod' jménem Nadeje (1969; A Ship Named Hope), consists of two novellas that develop allegorical condemnations of communism and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In the title piece, the passengers of a cruise ship find themselves at the mercy of a malevolent crew member after the vessel strays off-course. The second novella, The Jury, depicts twelve jurors of a murder trial who are forced to render a verdict despite their discovery that the defendant has already been sentenced and executed. The stories in Má veselá jitra (1978; My Merry Mornings: Stories from Prague) revolve around characters who attempt to manipulate Czech bureaucracy. For example, in “A Christmas Conspiracy,” Klíma relates the misadventures of an ostracized literary scholar who decides to sell fish on the black market but lacks the shrewdness necessary to make the venture profitable. Moje první lásky (1981; My First Loves) collects stories that describe the experiences of an unnamed youth during and immediately following World War II. The story “Miriam,” which is set in German-occupied Prague, follows the narrator's attraction to a girl who works in a soup kitchen. The girl abruptly ends their friendship after the deportation of local Jews to Nazi death camps.
In Cekání na tmu, cekání na svetlo (1982; Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light), the protagonist, Pavel, tries to escape to the West when the Russians invade Czechoslovakia, but his attempt is unsuccessful and he is sent to prison. Fantasy interweaves with real events from Pavel's life as he dreams of the day when freedom will return to his country and he will be able to write again and direct his own film. Eventually, Pavel submits to the system and goes to work as a cameraman for the state-run television station. Unfortunately, he becomes alienated from both his friends—because of his capitulation—and from his employers—who are suspicious of his dissident past. The 1993 revised edition of Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light explores Pavel's continuing feelings of isolation and confusion after the fall of communism in 1989. The novel Soudce z milosti (1986; Judge on Trial) recounts the story of a man named Adam Kindl. Told through third-person narration interspersed with the narrator's reminiscences, the novel follows Kindl's early life in a Nazi concentration camp. Kindl is later released from the camp and goes on to become a federal judge. He faces a professional crisis when he must preside over the trial of a lodger accused of gassing his landlady and her granddaughter. A steadfast opponent of the death penalty, Kindl must either abide by the wishes of the communist government or hold to his own principles and jeopardize his career.
Klíma's partly autobiographical novel Love and Garbage features a Czech writer whose work has been banned by the government. Although he has a dutiful wife and two children at home, the narrator cannot resist having an affair with a passionate sculptress named Daria. When Daria pressures the narrator to leave his wife, he abandons Daria and begins to work as a Prague street cleaner in order to forget her. His work as a street cleaner is never described, but instead acts as a symbol of degradation through menial labor and of the pervasiveness of human waste. Poslední stupen duvernosti (1996; The Ultimate Intimacy) relates the story of Daniel Vedra, a Protestant pastor who has just become married for the second time. Vedra recognizes that something is lacking from his marriage when a beautiful stranger attends his church to hear him preach. After Vedra begins a passionate relationship with the woman, his life begins to unravel, causing him to question all of his political and religious beliefs. Klíma employs a new prose technique in The Ultimate Intimacy, interspersing letters and diary entries throughout the action of the novel, which is set amid the social and economic upheaval of post-Communist Prague. Ani svatí ani andelé (1999; No Saints or Angels) follows a Czech dentist named Kristýna who has become obsessed with the shame of her father's communist past and has convinced herself that her life is a failure. Her daughter, Jana, is a teenage drug addict, who eventually frees herself from her addictions and tries to salvage her relationship with her mother.
In addition to his novels and short stories, Klíma has also written several plays and essay collections. His first play, Zámek (1964; The Castle), is a reinterpretation of Franz Kafka's novel Das Schloss. Zámek is a comedy that satirizes the Czech community of state-supported artists. The play Mistr (1967; The Master) constructs a mystery around a carpenter who delivers a coffin to a family despite their insistence that they did not order it. The essay collection The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays (1994) chronicles Klíma's experiences in a Nazi concentration camp and his later life in Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime. Klíma has additionally published O chlapci, ktery se nestal císlem (2000; This Is Not a Fairy Tale—It's Real), a children's book, and Velký vek chce mít tez velké mordy: zivot a dílo Karla Čapka (2001; Karel Čapek: Life and Work), a critical examination of the Czech author.
Klíma's work was not widely known outside of Czechoslovakia during the 1960s. Since he became a dissident writer in the 1970s, Klíma's writings have received increased critical attention, particularly in Western Europe. Most reviews of Klíma's fiction have included a discussion of his role as a dissident and his decision to remain in Czechoslovakia under censorship rather than writing from exile. Several reviewers have noted that while the act of writing and publishing secretly during communism may have been political, Klíma's work does not have overtly political content. Instead, critics have commended Klíma for his continuing focus on individual lives and struggles. However, Scott Bradfield has commented that Klíma's preoccupation with personal issues can be a liability, stating that, “At his best, [Klíma] articulates how philosophical arguments are exemplified by human lives. And at his worst, his narratives tend to get mired in introspection; his characters tend to be swallowed up by their own rampant subjectivity.” Many critics have continually lauded Klíma for his skillful use of black humor and satire to portray the effects of political and economic oppression on ordinary individuals. Peter Kemp has asserted that, “As an unbudgeably honest indicter of fraud and corruption, Klíma is exemplary. Where he starts to strike false notes is when he turns to what have before proved his fictional weak spots, mistresses and mysticism.” Many commentators have noted the influence of Franz Kafka on Klíma's work, with some even arguing that his prose often includes deliberate homages to Kafka. While assessing Klíma's overall significance as a Czech writer, Mark Schapiro has stated that, “The very human nature of Klíma's work is precisely what makes it accessible, if not always lofty. His writing does not belong on the highest rungs of literary masterworks but in the realm of the vivid storyteller, the prober into human foibles.”
Bezvadný den (short stories) 1960
Karel Čapek (essays) 1962; revised edition, 1965
Hodina ticha (novel) 1963
Milenci na jednu noc (short stories) 1964; revised as Lovers for a Day, 1999
Zámek [The Castle] (play) 1964
Mistr [The Master] (play) 1967
*Lod' jménem Nadeje [A Ship Named Hope] (novellas) 1969
Porota (play) 1969
Milostné léto [A Summer Affair] (novel) 1972
Hry (play) 1975
Má veselá jitra [My Merry Mornings: Stories from Prague] (short stories) 1978
Moje první lásky [My First Loves] (short stories) 1981
Cekání na tmu, cekání na svetlo [Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light] (novel) 1982; revised edition, 1993
Soudce z milosti [Judge on Trial] (novel) 1986
Láska a smetí [Love and Garbage] (novel) 1987
Moje zlatá remesla [My Golden Trades] (short stories) 1990
Ostrov mrtvych králu (short stories) 1991
The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays (essays) 1994
Jak daleko je slunce [illustrations by Hana...
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SOURCE: Enright, D. J. “Czech Mates.” New York Review of Books 36, no. 8 (18 May 1989): 37-9.
[In the following excerpt, Enright asserts that readers are likely to empathize with the narrator of My First Loves, though notes that some readers may be irritated by him at the same time.]
Ivan Klíma's My First Loves relates to much the same time-span as I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal, and the second of its four linked stories features a wise old violinist, formerly a waiter and a major-domo who once served the Austrian Emperor with a glass of wine at a banquet in Vienna. He tells the young narrator that people shouldn't look down on those who are not ashamed to serve others, for which of them doesn't serve? “I've always maintained that a man can do anything so long as he does it lovingly.” The remark is a gentle corrective to the boy's egalitarian notions, but sentiments very similar could have come from Ditie.
The narrator—we have some authority for calling him Ivan—is given to speculating on the meaning of life, on God, and the soul, and immortality, but otherwise the stories are very different: sad, introspective, inconclusive, and above all steeped in uncertainty. In the first story, set during the German occupation, the keynote is sounded when the youthful narrator, who hopes for a future as a witness-bearer, a painter or a poet, asks...
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SOURCE: Klíma, Ivan, and Philip Roth. “A Conversation in Prague.” New York Review of Books 37, no. 6 (12 April 1990): 14-22.
[In the following interview, Klíma discusses the political situation in Czechoslovakia and its effects on the literature of the country.]
Born in Prague in 1931, Ivan Klíma has undergone what Jan Kott calls a “European education”: during his adult years as a novelist, critic, and playwright his work was suppressed in Czechoslovakia by the Communist authorities (and his family members harried and punished right along with him), while during his early years, as a Jewish child, he was transported, with his parents, to the Terezin concentration camp by the Nazis. In 1969, when the Russians moved into Czechoslovakia, he was out of the country, in London, on the way to the University of Michigan to see a production of one of his plays and to teach literature. When his teaching duties ended in Ann Arbor in the spring of 1970, he returned to Czechoslovakia with his wife and two children to become one of the “admirable handful”—as a professor, recently reinstated at Charles University, described Klíma and his circle to me at lunch one day—whose persistent opposition to the regime made their daily lives extremely hard.
Of his fifteen or so novels and collections of stories, those written after 1970 were published openly only abroad, in Europe primarily;...
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SOURCE: Schubert, Peter Z. Review of Love and Garbage, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 65, no. 2 (spring 1991): 325.
[In the following review, Schubert discusses the publishing history of Love and Garbage and argues that the book's enthusiastic critical reception was well deserved.]
In countries other than Czecho-Slovakia, writers who have not achieved popularity with the reading public rely on other jobs to make a living. In Czecho-Slovakia, however, the most popular authors work in other occupations. The president, ministers, and ambassadors, for instance, can hardly find time to continue with their literary careers, which they pursued for decades while working at various forms of manual labor forced upon them by the former regime. Only time will show whether we will ever read about their experiences in the highest offices, but their work as stokers, street sweepers, or brewery laborers has become an inseparable part of Czech and Slovak literature. The series of Vanek plays, for example, begun by today's president, inspired several other playwrights and may also have provided the inspiration for Ivan Klíma's novel Laska a smeti.
The renowned dissident author wrote the book between 1983 and 1986 and circulated it through the Prague samizdat Padlock Edition (Edice Petlice) in 1987; in 1988 it was published for the first time in Czech by Rozmluvy...
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SOURCE: Shapiro, Anna. “Garbage to Garbage, Dust to Dust.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (19 May 1991): 3, 10.
[In the following review, Shapiro notes a definite American influence in Klíma's Love and Garbage and in Felix Roziner's A Certain Finkelmeyer.]
It is odd enough that two novels about Jewish writers living under the thumb of Soviet censorship, each with a wife and two children and a beloved mistress, should appear in this country at the same time, but a more surprising similarity is that both are so strikingly removed in tone from what one thinks of as characteristically Eastern European.
The chilling humor of a Milan Kundera or Josef Skvorecky or the didactic blasts of Solzhenitsyn barely echo. Instead, the Czechoslovakian Ivan Klima's style in Love and Garbage is dreamy and almost submarine, while Felix Roziner in A Certain Finkelmeyer, writing in Russian, is more straightforwardly naturalistic. Each novel, in its earnestness, in its desire to be friendly, open, nice and liked, and in a recalcitrant preoccupation with private life, could easily, apart from its subject matter, be American.
But that's a large “apart from.” Aaron Finkelmeyer is the Jew of questionable jokes, from his “big schnoz” and skinny, noodly physique to his name, in a country—Khrushchev's Russia—where being a Jew is no joke. It is, rather, a ticket...
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SOURCE: Baranczak, Stanislaw. “Life Is Elsewhere.” New Republic 205, no. 5 (29 July 1991): 36-9.
[In the following review, Baranczak compares and contrasts Love and Garbage with Milan Kundera's Immortality.]
There must be something wrong with me or with the fiction of Central Europe, if these two very different books by two very different authors, each one of them hailed as the crowning achievement of a leading representative of the cutting-edge section of that cutting-edge area of contemporary literature that Central European fiction supposedly is, leave me each with the feeling that there is no edge to do any cutting.
Love and Garbage and Immortality landed at the same time on my lap by a coincidence of American publishing. The only two things that these novels seem to have in common is that they were both originally written in Czech, and that both represent the latest stages in two important writers' careers. Self-correction: there is a third analogy. Both books aspire to tackle problems as ungraspably immense as the abstract notions used in their titles (in Love and Garbage, I have in mind, of course, Love, although the author never lets us forget that Garbage has a universal, global, timeless, profound, and all-encompassing meaning, too).
Each does it, however, in an almost programmatically different way. I suspect that Klima, a...
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SOURCE: Kemp, Peter. “Evident Absurdity.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4621 (25 October 1991): 20.
[In the following review, Kemp evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Judge on Trial, noting that the novel “takes you into an atmosphere of choking oppressiveness.”]
An acrid smell wafts from the pages of Judge on Trial—that of gas. Two characters mentioned in the book gas themselves. A disturbed young man tries to do the same for himself and his mistress. Her husband, about to preside over the trial of someone accused of gassing an old woman and her granddaughter, is a Jew who spent his wartime years in the shadow of the gas chambers.
As might be expected from this, the novel's subject is suffocation. Like all of Ivan Klíma's fiction, it takes you into an atmosphere of choking oppressiveness. This is something Klíma himself was transported into at an early age: when a boy, he was imprisoned for three years in the Terezin concentration camp. As books and exhibitions have poignantly illustrated, children interned there drew pictures—usually bright-crayoned memories of their homes and pets or open country scenes with flowers and butterflies and beaming suns. The drawings Klíma did, he has recalled, were always of the walls shutting him in.
It is a procedure he has subsequently transferred to prose. His works so far translated into...
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SOURCE: Angier, Carole. “The Old Adam.” New Statesman and Society 4, no. 181 (13 December 1991): 37.
[In the following review, Angier examines the bleakness of Klíma's world view in Judge on Trial.]
Ivan Klíma's superb stories, My First Loves, were published here in 1986. Since then we've had two knife-like novels, A Summer Affair and Love and Garbage, cutting deeply into his twin subjects of politics and love. And now Judge on Trial, which has been considered his masterpiece since it appeared in samizdat form in Czechoslovakia in 1978. It cuts still more deeply, and widely, into the same two diseases; it shows step by step, how a man becomes an ideologue and an adulterer, but cannot bear to go on living in either universe of lies.
Like the dissident hero of Love and Garbage, Adam Kindl has had a tragic wartime childhood in a ghetto-camp from which all his friends were deported and murdered. It is this appalling experience that makes him hunger for a perfect system to save mankind—and which thereby turns him into a perfect tool for its enslavement instead. From school to university to first job as judge, Klíma describes each step of Kindl's high-minded damnation with savage clarity: “I preached about what we must do to achieve a perfect order … that would confer well-being and happiness on the whole of mankind. Mankind! Including...
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SOURCE: Ascherson, Neal. “Heartlessness.” London Review of Books 13, no. 24 (19 December 1991): 17.
[In the following review, Ascherson argues that Love and Garbage displays Klíma's literary talents more effectively than Judge on Trial.]
The war was finished—and so was the regime of occupation. Its most hated representatives had either fled or wound up in prison while their victims had been proclaimed martyrs. But all that concerned just a tiny section of the population: most of the people had not died, fled or gone to gaol, but merely gone on with their lives. Overnight, they had entered a world which commended actions that yesterday's laws had identified as crimes, a world whose laws declared yesterday's crimes to be acts of heroism. They naturally regarded this change as a victory for historical truth and agreed that guilt must be assessed, wrongs put right and society purged.
But what was to be identified as guilt and what condoned, seeing that they had all lived under the former regime, however hated and imposed it was? Seeing that the existence and actions of the regimes had also depended on their own existence and behaviour. Who was to be the defendant, who the witness and who the judge? At the trials that were to take place, would not those who confronted each other in the courtroom be equally guilty and...
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SOURCE: Angier, Carole. “Jobs' Worth.” New Statesman and Society 5, no. 222 (2 October 1992): 42.
[In the following review, Angier lauds Klíma's use of humour, evocation of mystery, and examination of society in My Golden Trades, commenting on the influence of Franz Kafka on Klíma's writing.]
Over every Czech writer hangs the shade of Kafka: his voice and his greatness. In My Golden Trades, Ivan Klíma invokes Kafka for the first time (I think) in his writing. Like everything else in this collection, that is perfectly judged. For here Klíma joins Kafka, at least for me. He turns a similar grave and penetrating gaze on to a paranoid society; he wields a similar deadpan humour, evokes a similar mystery, and conducts a similar battle against despair.
Indeed, for me, Klíma is the greater, or anyway the richer. For Kafka's music is unvarying: reality and symbol, inner and outer, blend into one dark sound. Whereas Klíma gives us many melodies: a real and terrifying world, a caustic and philosophic commentary, and a transcendent imagination.
Each of the six stories here is based on a job that the narrator, a banned writer, is forced to do for economic or psychic survival. From “The Smuggler's Story” and “The Engine Driver's Story” you can learn how to survive in a police state (“speak as little as possible, mention no names, never get into an...
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SOURCE: Naughton, James. “Recycling the Stories.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4672 (16 October 1992): 24.
[In the following review, Naughton discusses the themes and sense of place in My Golden Trades.]
It is bold, even in a volume as pleasant to read as this [My Golden Trades], to cite, several times in one story, the eternal verities of Ecclesiastes and to assert that, as well as using up “most of our fuel, our non-ferrous metals, our drinking water, our clean air; we've used up our stories as well,” “there is nothing new to add.” Ivan Klíma is admirable in eschewing pseudo-literary violent sensation, and in advocating the values of spirituality, charity and respect. It is perhaps timely for Westerners to be reminded, in a brief afterword, that banned writers in Czechoslovakia did not simply write about “repression, the secret police, prison and the cruel and bizarre practices of the communist regime”; and that, even if “life sometimes put writers in situations writers in a free country almost never experience,” this can only “add colour to writing, nothing more.” I found myself, nevertheless, a little paradoxically, locating the value of My Golden Trades not so much in its gently improving lamentations on environmental decay and social disintegration in our “dehumanized” age, as in its specific blending of these themes with the psychological documenting of...
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SOURCE: Drabelle, Dennis. “Hard Decisions.” Washington Post Book World (18 April 1993): 6.
[In the following review, Drabelle concludes that, despite a slow beginning, Judge on Trial is a passionate and compelling novel which serves as a culmination of Klíma's work thus far.]
Questions of loyalty have long preoccupied Czech novelist Ivan Klima. His newly translated novel, Judge on Trial, weaves them into a complex pattern that sums up nearly all his work. It's not allegiance to superficial symbols like flags or anthems that engages him—and certainly not to the shibboleths mouthed by the former communist establishment. Rather, the Klima protagonist is likely to agonize over temptations to ditch his profession, or his wife and kids, or his native land and language—and sometimes all the above—in seeking refuge abroad.
For Klima himself, like so many other Czech intellectuals of his generation, the moment of truth came in the late 1960s and early '70s, after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was then that two of his peers, novelists Milan Kundera and Josef Skvorecky, chose exile in other countries (France and Canada, respectively) over suppression in Czechoslovakia. Although Klima had an easy opportunity to do the same—in 1969 he was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan—he elected to go home, a decision that cost him dearly as a...
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SOURCE: Filkins, Peter. “The Way They Lived.” Partisan Review 60, no. 3 (summer 1993): 487-93.
[In the following excerpt, Filkins derides the lack of narrative progression in Love and Garbage.]
Halfway through Ivan Klíma's Love and Garbage, the narrator exclaims, “I am not going back and I am not going forward, I am standing in a void, I am standing between two fields, at the meeting point of two calls which intersect each other, I am nailed to the cross, how can I move?” Though this refers specifically to the narrator's inability to choose between his psychiatrist wife Lida and his sculptress lover Daria, it's also a lament about the stasis of life in Czechoslovakia under the old regime, as well as the dead end in which the narrator finds himself as a writer in a society that will not allow his work to be published. Hence, if only to see life from another side, the narrator decides to become a street sweeper, cleaning up the rubbish of Prague while also sorting the rubbish of his own confusion and despair.
“Rubbish is immortal,” thinks the narrator, “it pervades the air, swells up in water, dissolves, rots, disintegrates, changes into gas, into smoke, into soot, it travels across the world and gradually engulfs it.” The same can be said of the alienation that pervades Klíma's Prague. As a writer, the narrator finds that “I had been living in a strange kind of...
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SOURCE: von Kunes, Karen. Review of Judge on Trial, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 68, no. 4 (autumn 1994): 848.
[In the following review, von Kunes asserts that Judge on Trial is a culmination of the ideas and thematic material found in Klíma's previous work.]
Those who are familiar with Ivan Klíma's writings can recognize Judge on Trial, in one form or another, in the author's previous works. Ambitious in its depths, the novel is a quest for truth and justice, freedom and loyalty. The story, which begins after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, is multileveled, with numerous flashbacks and reminiscences.
Judge Adam Kindl, who is no longer a member of the Communist Party, is handed a case of double murder, although in reality it is he who is on trial: instructed to bring in a guilty verdict and a sentence of death by hanging for the culprit, Kindl finds his own judgment and actions are being scrutinized by the authorities. In principle, the judge opposes the death penalty, and the communist system as well, for the latter has proved to be a source of great disillusion for him and for most of his countrymen. Kindl has much in common with Klíma's hero in Love and Garbage; both Jews, they survived the Nazi death camps only to be liberated by Russians who imprisoned them in an oppressive communist system.
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SOURCE: Sherwood, Peter. “The Other Europe.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4781 (18 November 1994): 21.
[In the following review, Sherwood examines the bleak themes and outlook of Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light.]
It is now five years since those faces on the television screen, ecstatic as the Berlin Wall fell and as the party men took their final curtain. Not all that has followed in the Europe can be explained in terms of the re-emergence of age-old fault-lines; in particular, the radical political changes achieved without armed conflict in the north and west of the region have been too readily seen as proof of an organic return to the body of Europe. This appealing notion doesn't pay attention to the legacy of vast areas of postwar history. The remains or return of the former nomenklatura in many walks of life is only the most obvious evidence of continuity with the former regimes; at least as significant is the nexus between writing and political power, which has survived the changes in some countries, notably the Czech Republic. Here, Václav Havel has continued to claim, as President, the high moral ground he occupied in philosophical-artistic opposition, while Ivan Klíma, one of the best-known Czech writers in the West, though continuing to take no active part in politics, last year published this ambitious and highly wrought fiction. Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for...
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SOURCE: Zamoyski, Adam. “Bearing Witness to the Truth.” Spectator 273, no. 8683 (10 December 1994): 43.
[In the following review, Zamoyski praises Klíma's skill with prose and narrative in The Spirit of Prague and Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light.]
Ivan Klima has had quite a life. He was eight years old when the war began to impinge on his Prague childhood, restricting his movements in the city, banning him from school, forbidding him from going to the cinema—though he challenged the Gestapo on that one when Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came to town. He describes these things in The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays as they appeared to him then—as minor nuisances—and he records the exhilaration he felt when the whole family were pushed on to a train bound for the concentration camp of Terezin. It was the excitement any child feels at going on a journey. He describes the three years he spent at Terezin with the same committed detachment as Primo Levi, and this makes the first three essays in this collection particularly valuable, as well as moving.
Klima's detachment, and above all his intelligence, allow him to reflect on subjects such as the solidarity among prisoners, the loss of dignity in people under stress and the more philosophical aspects of the strangeness of life in a concentration camp. He admits that it was the fact of...
(The entire section is 724 words.)
SOURCE: Bradbrook, B. R. Review of Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 69, no. 2 (spring 1995): 395.
[In the following review, Bradbrook explores how the fall of Communism affected the protagonist in Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light.]
“In our literature now we have too many Joyces,” declared the Czech poet Miroslav Holub in an interview in London in March 1995. Although Ivan Klíma's novel Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light does not quite fall into this category, its layered structure of time and place, together with the interweaving of the single episodes, is reminiscent of Joyce; yet the combination of dream and reality has a distinctive, gloomy, Kafkaesque tang. The “dark” period for the TV cameraman Pavel is that dominated by the long-lived communist regime; it is a time during which he can only dream, about his own great, uncensored screenplay. Through his own fault he loses the woman he loves; he then sleeps with another because he cannot live with his senile mother, whom he visits and cares for loyally. His experiences, rather ordinary but including a jail term after his unsuccessful attempt to flee the country, are projected in his fictitious screenplay into a drama full of thrills, tension, and tragedy.
Under the old regime, Paul keeps his comparatively good job in a minimal show of...
(The entire section is 550 words.)
SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Broken Blossoms.” New York Review of Books 42, no. 7 (20 April 1995): 15-16.
[In the following review, Annan focuses on the pessimistic outlook, cynicism, and sense of disillusionment that pervades Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light.]
A short time before the Velvet Revolution a peaceful demonstration marches through Prague with banners calling for LESS SMOKE, MORE AIR. The police are ready with their truncheons and water cannon; Pavel is standing ready with his television camera and the van with the State Television logo on it. “The clash would be as absurd as all the others before it,” he thinks,
but there was no stopping it. Everyone knew this: those who would administer the beatings and those who would be beaten. This utter certainty transformed the raw determination on both sides into movements that almost seemed preordained.
It is also preordained that most of Pavel's footage will be thrown out or used to travesty what is happening; and he himself is preordained to play the role he plays in this opening shot of the novel: to be an outsider—his camera
a sign of his alien, observer status, a status that could not distinguish between what was essential and what was not, in which, for the most part, it was impossible to get excited about anything,...
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SOURCE: Schubert, Peter Z. Review of My Golden Trades, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 69, no. 3 (summer 1995): 609.
[In the following review, Schubert notes that My Golden Trades is well worth reading, despite what he contends to be a flawed translation.]
The latest addition to the extensive list of Ivan Klíma's publications in English, the novel Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light has just been favorably reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. Even before this special attention, however, Klíma undoubtedly was one of the most frequently translated and most popular Czech writers. Although his latest novel found its way to the American reader very fast, this was not the case with My Golden Trades. The 1993 Penguin Books edition referred to a concurrent publication on both sides of the Atlantic, but in actual fact the U.S. reader had to wait another year to obtain his copy. This being the case, it comes as a surprise that the long-awaited U.S. edition uses British spelling.
My Golden Trades is the third—both chronologically and thematically—in a series of short-prose collections correlated by the author's style and autobiographical inspiration. The other two parts of the “trilogy” are Moje první lásky (My First Loves) and My Merry Mornings. Although Moje první lásky...
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SOURCE: Bradbrook, B. R. Review of The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 69, no. 3 (summer 1995): 610.
[In the following review, Bradbrook evaluates the essays in The Spirit of Prague, providing brief summaries of the major thematic material, including Klíma's childhood, his opinions regarding dissident writers, and the history of Prague.]
“In themselves, extreme experiences do not open the way to wisdom,” says Ivan Klíma in one of his essays in the collection The Spirit of Prague, which in fact contains much wisdom resulting precisely from the extreme experiences the author had to endure. Muses may be silenced by oppression, but human thought matures and takes shape by experience in such conditions; the number of excellent essays by Czech dissident writers prove that.
The essay is a comparatively new genre in Czech literature, used widely by Karel Čapek (1890-1938), a great admirer of G. K. Chesterton; Klíma's style continues in the best Čapek vein. The earliest piece in the present collection dates from 1974, but most of them were written during the last few years as the author pondered the oppressive past (among other subjects) from the perspective of the first years of freedom. His themes, however, apart from one section, are not really political; the first part, for instance, tells us a great deal about Klíma...
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SOURCE: Sherwood, Peter. “A Czech Intellectual.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4935 (31 October 1997): 26.
[In the following review, Sherwood offers a negative assessment of The Ultimate Intimacy, commenting that the novel overindulges in “simplistic nostalgia.”]
The latest in a long line of serious Klíma professionals, Daniel Vedra is a Protestant pastor with the familiar melancholy air and ascetic strain, whose journey through the past twenty years of Czech(oslovak) history The Ultimate Intimacy strives to show as a Calvary of the decent Czech intellectual. The stations of his cross have the definitive articles of his faith: the Charter (1977), the Revolution (Velvet, 1989) and the Restitution (of property, in the 1990s). He is, in turn, harried, hailed and finally handed back a handsome house; so that, for the duration of the novel, money is not the issue. Vedra has a small but loyal flock and dispenses the word and good deeds, relying on the loyal companionship of his second wife, Hana, and his virtually grown-up children from both marriages. But something in his life—the ultimate intimacy that he is said to have enjoyed with his first wife—is missing, as he realizes when the beautiful stranger, Bára, comes to hear him preach. As their entanglement progresses, his life unravels, and he discovers the true meaning of an affair of the heart.
Ivan Klíma was...
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SOURCE: Irvine, David. “The Old Story Served Fresh.” Spectator 280, no. 8839 (3 January 1998): 28-9.
[In the following review, Irvine maintains that Klíma undertakes a powerful examination of the nature of love in The Ultimate Intimacy.]
In his novel, Love and Garbage, Klima's narrator says on the subject of writing:
I still believe that literature has something in common with hope … I am not greatly attracted to books whose authors merely portray the hopelessness of our existence, despairing of man, of our conditions, despairing over poverty and riches, over the finiteness of life and the transience of feelings. A writer who doesn't know anything else had better keep silent.
The dictum lends itself well to Ivan Klima's latest novel, The Ultimate Intimacy. There is much that is positive in this novel, but little that is unambiguously so.
The novel—a combination of diary, letters and narrative—is couched in Klima's familiar, deceptively simple language. The backdrop to the novel is a Prague no longer constrained by totalitarianism, but consumed by social and economic upheaval. The central protagonist, Daniel Vedra, is a pastor, married to Hana, with whom he leads a quiet, untroubled life. He has consigned passion to an earlier period of his life with his first wife, Jitka, who died at an...
(The entire section is 671 words.)
SOURCE: Bradfield, Scott. “Freefall.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (25 January 1998): 8.
[In the following review, Bradfield criticizes The Ultimate Intimacy, arguing that the novel is too long and often repetitive.]
In Ivan Klíma's new novel The Ultimate Intimacy, the Communist-free Czech Republic is finally ready to catch up with the fast-track modern world. Skinheads are advocating capital punishment in Prague streets. The health-care system has been privatized into a shambles. And now that freedom of religion is available to everyone, nobody wants to worship anything but money. It's a perilously liberated world in which the old walls are coming down in a torrent of rusty rocks. And the startled citizenry can no longer blame the state of their nation on anyone but themselves.
The Ultimate Intimacy's moody, dutiful protagonist is Daniel Vedra, a Protestant minister who no longer suffers from fears of political persecution and sudden tribunals in the night. A pragmatically good man who sincerely wants to do God's work and had been persecuted for it, Daniel has lived his entire life in a country where the divisions between good and evil have been pretty easy to make out. On the one hand, there was the government, which nobody liked. And on the other hand, there was the glorious abstract notion of the “people,” which everyone pretended to prefer. For almost...
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SOURCE: Klíma, Ivan, and Rob Trucks. “A Conversation with Ivan Klíma.” New England Review 20, no. 2 (spring 1999): 77-87.
[In the following interview, Klíma discusses his body of work, his major themes, and his opinions on Czech literature.]
NOTE: The writings of sixty-six-year-old Ivan Klíma were banned in his native Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) following the Prague Spring of 1968. Unlike fellow Czech prose artists Milan Kundera and Josef Skvorecky, Klíma chose not to emigrate. He remained in Prague where his writings were only available through samizdat, a network of writers who distributed typed copies of each other's manuscripts.
An accomplished playwright and essayist (The Spirit of Prague), Klíma is best known in the Western world for his fiction, including the short story collections My Merry Mornings and My Golden Trades, and the novels Love and Garbage, Judge on Trial, and his latest, The Ultimate Intimacy.
I met with Ivan Klíma at his home in Prague in May of 1998.
[Trucks]: I wanted to apologize, first off, for having to conduct this interview in my language rather than yours.
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SOURCE: Klíma, Ivan, and Mark Schapiro. “Fading Czech Velvet.” Nation 268, no. 18 (17 May 1999): 38-41.
[In the following interview, Klíma discusses how Czech literature has changed since the political reconstruction of the country.]
As I'm driven to the home of Ivan Klima, one of the Czech Republic's most internationally respected writers, the hand of fate slips in beside me in the taxi. Heading into the remote, hilly outskirts of Prague 4, I fumble to show the driver my scrawled address, but he tells me I needn't bother: He used to live right next door to Klima. They were neighbors almost two decades ago.
Has he read any of Klima's books? The driver shakes his head; he was a taxi driver then too, a relatively privileged position. Reading his notorious neighbor, one of the founders of Communist-era Czechoslovakia's samizdat press, he could have lost his position in a flash.
Has he read any of Klima's books since the 1989 Velvet Revolution?
“No, too busy now,” he says, in halting English, a touch embarrassed.
He shows sudden pride, though, as we turn onto a street that's a sort of countrified suburb a half-hour's drive outside downtown Prague. He points to the slate-gray, two-story, semi-detached house that his family once shared with the Klimas—Ivan, his wife and their daughter.
Klima smiles when...
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SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “The Poetry of Waiting.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (5 September 1999): 2.
[In the following review, Levi examines the stories in Lovers for a Day, commenting that Klíma's earliest stories are the strongest in the collection.]
Waiting. In a century that has given birth to more utopias and more graves than any other, is there a word that describes better the state of man? Is there a more active word to describe man's activity (perhaps, following Beckett, man's only activity) or man's hope?
The Czech writer Ivan Klíma is best known in this country for his novel Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light, the story of Czechoslovakia's passage through the Velvet Revolution of 1989, from a Communist past to an uncertain future. Klíma films the book through the eyes of Pavel, a cameraman for the party's television station, a man of dreams who is forced to act when the country awakes after its long sleep. Like Pavel, Klíma's latest book, Lovers for a Day, passes from the early 1960s through the brief radiance of the Prague Spring of 1969, to the bruising disappointment of the following two decades and into the uncertain light of the 1990s. And perhaps it would surprise no one, least of all Pavel, to conclude that the early stories—stories of waiting—are the true gems of the collection, sparkling introductions to yet another Czech...
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SOURCE: Brownjohn, Alan. “Love after the Revolution.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5032 (10 September 1999): 21.
[In the following review, Brownjohn traces Klíma's portrayal of love throughout the stories in Lovers for a Day.]
These twelve short stories about love and lovers are selected from two collections representing quite distinct periods in Ivan Klíma's work. Neither book has been published in Britain, and Lovers for a Day thus provides a most welcome addition to the substantial number of remarkable novels already available in translation; several of which, like A Summer Affair, are addressed to the same favourite theme.
A date is appended to each story, and there is a wide gap between the last of the five earlier pieces, which is given as 1969, and the first of the seven later ones, from 1987; the rest of those being dated 1994. That long interval included most of the years during which Klíma's work was banned in his native Czechoslovakia, and there is a clear difference in the treatment of character and situation between the earlier and the more recent examples. However, love remains, as the novels emphasize, something simultaneously all-absorbing, clandestine, threatened, transient and more often than not inconclusive.
Sometimes it appears hardly to exist at all; the newly married couple in “Honeymoon” are uncertain as to who they...
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SOURCE: Bradbrook, B. R. Review of No Saints or Angels, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 74, no. 3 (summer 2000): 670.
[In the following review, Bradbrook lauds the interior monologue and narrative structure of No Saints or Angels.]
The effect of Ivan Klíma's traumatic childhood experience under the Nazis often appears in his writings as a tone of gloom. In his latest novel, No Saints or Angels, the gloom has intensified into a serious concern and a search for the causes of unhappiness in human relations. A decade after the fall of communism in Klíma's homeland, the destructive legacy of the odious regime still upsets indirectly the balance of normality in Klíma's excellent analysis of the fact that not everything is well in the renewed democracy as yet.
The heroine, Kristýna, still feels the shadow of her father's communist past, as well as his misbehavior toward her mother; she herself, no saint but not a great sinner either, is just an ordinary, fallible, vulnerable being, a dentist by profession and inclined to suffer from depression. Although attractive and longing for a stable relationship, she seems unable to attain one: her husband leaves her and their young daughter, to whom she then gives all her attention. Later, however, unaware of the danger, she fails to prevent the adolescent girl from falling in with bad company and becoming a drug addict of the...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
SOURCE: Laird, Nick. “The Apparatchik's Daughter.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5143 (26 October 2001): 21.
[In the following review, Laird contends that the use of a female narrator in No Saints or Angels adds to the book's clever and engaging plot.]
In a letter to the Editor of the New York Review of Books (July 21, 1988), Czeslaw Milosz upbraided Al Alvarez for a positive and respectful review of his Collected Poems, complaining that Alvarez shoehorned his poetry into an outdated mode of thinking about Eastern European writing as being essentially a reactive art, an exact and opposite impulse to the pressures of oppression.
History. Society. If a literary critic is fascinated with them, that's his choice; if, however, he is insensitive to another dimension, he risks to curtail his right to reflect on literature. Perhaps some Western writers are longing for subjects provided by spasms of historical violent change, but I can assure Mr Alvarez that we, ie, natives of hazy Eastern regions, perceive History as a curse and prefer to restore to literature its autonomy, dignity, and independence from social pressures. … The voice of a poet should be purer and more distinct than the noise (or confused music) of History. You may guess my uneasiness when I saw the long evolution of my poetic craft encapsuled by Mr Alvarez in the word...
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SOURCE: Czerwinski, E. J. Review of No Saints or Angels, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 76, no. 2 (spring 2002): 221.
[In the following review, Czerwinski praises No Saints or Angels as one of Klíma's strongest and compelling works, but faults the translation for its confusing melding of British English and modern slang.]
Like good wine, Ivan Klíma improves with age. During the sixties and seventies his works seemed guided by a heavy hand and a censor's steady gaze. As the political climate became more oppressive, his writings acquired an air of freedom. His latest novel [No Saints or Angels] (perhaps more accurately translated as “Neither Saints nor Angels”) is undoubtedly his finest work.
Klíma has always been praised for experimenting with the boundaries of point of view. In Saints he manages to incorporate several voices into a harmonious whole. The central figure, Kristýna, dominates the novel. She sees herself as a failure. It is the interaction among the various people in her life that creates the tension in the novel. Jana, her daughter, is a teenager hooked on various drugs. She manages to free herself of substance abuse and ultimately comes to terms with her immature and guilt-ridden mother. Curiously enough, Klíma allows us to believe that somehow there is hope that Kristýna and Jana will even find some degree of happiness, an...
(The entire section is 408 words.)
Allen, Brooke. “Silence, Exile, Cunning.” New Criterion 18, no. 3 (November 1999): 60-5.
Allen argues that Lovers for a Day exhibits the continuity of Klíma's writing throughout his career.
Bradbrook, B. R. Review of Velký vek chce mít tez velké mordy: zivot a dílo Karla Čapka, by Ivan Klíma. World Literature Today 76, nos. 3-4 (summer-autumn 2002): 144-45.
Bradbrook commends Klíma's critical study of Czech author Karel Čapek in Velký vek chce mít tez velké mordy: zivot a dílo Karla Čapka, noting that “apart from the Czech title, there is not much to criticize in this book.”
Horne, Philip. “Clean Sweep.” London Review of Books 12, no. 9 (10 May 1990): 26-7.
Horne evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Love and Garbage.
Additional coverage of Klíma's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 4; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 17, 50, 91; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 56; Contemporary World Writers, Ed. 2; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 232; DISCovering Authors Modules: Novelists; Literature Resource Center;...
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