The Farewell Party

by Milan Kundera

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Fertility and pregnancy, as well as life and death, are major concerns in Milan Kundera's novel The Farewell Party. The action takes place primarily at a spa, where many women go in hopes of improving their fertility. The situation is reversed, however, for Ruzena, a nurse at the clinic, who has lived in the spa town all her life. She has become pregnant and is certain that the father is Klima, a famous jazz trumpeter with whom she had an affair. Klima, however, resists believing that the baby is his. A married, childless man, he clings to his rapidly fleeting youth and resists taking any responsibility. After Ruzena informs him by telephone of the pregnancy and her belief that he is the father, he consults with his fellow band members as to the best strategy for avoiding her claim.

The band members' various suggestions involve appealing to her compassion, to common sense, and to romantic instincts—the latter accompanied by the suggestion that Klima and Ruzene could stay together if she agrees to having an abortion. The guitarist, however, advocates killing her in a car “accident.” Although he declines, Klima thinks it over:

He was no more virtuous than the guitarist—only more timid. He feared an accusation of murder as much as one of paternity. He visualized a car running over Ruzena’s body, he imagined her lying in the road in a pool of blood, and he felt a few moments of blissful relief. But he realized there was no point in lulling himself with such sweet visions. Anyway, he had a much more immediate problem: tomorrow was his wife’s birthday!

Jakub is an intellectual who had formerly been imprisoned. Now he has the opportunity to move and work abroad, as he has been offered a visiting professor post. His experiences of persecution have made him cynical and pessimistic, so he struggles to believe that the authorities will actually permit him to leave the country. He has cherished his secret escape method, a blue poison pill that Doctor Skreta gave him, which he can use for suicide if he becomes desperate. He tries to explain to his friend Olga, whom he believes is in love with him, why he has held onto it even though he is no longer imprisoned:

“I’ve had it for more than fifteen years. There was one thing I had learned after a year in prison: A prisoner needs at least this one certainty—that he is master of his own death, capable of choosing its own time and manner. When you have that certainty, you can stand almost anything. You always know it is in your power to escape life any time you choose… In this country, you never know when such a need might arise.”

Ruzena has a devoted admirer, Franta, who pursues her even though she rebuffs him. When Klima comes to the spa town to play a concert, Klima tries to convince her to get an abortion. Thought tempted by Franta's promise of undying love, she becomes even more resolute in her decision to keep the baby. After she has a sexual encounter with an older man, Bartleff, she further contemplates her feelings for the other men. She realizes that her feelings toward each of the two men and toward her unborn child are not mutually dependent.

Even though she was in love with the trumpeter, Franta meant a great deal to her. He and Klima formed an indivisible pair: one signified everyday reality, the other a dream; one wanted her, the other did not; she wanted to escape from one and longed for the other… She oscillated between them as if they were the two poles of her existence; they were the north and south poles of the only planet she knew.

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