Ivan Klíma Criticism - Essay

D. J. Enright (review date 18 May 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Ivan Klíma and Philip Roth (interview date 12 April 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Peter Z. Schubert (review date spring 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Anna Shapiro (review date 19 May 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Stanislaw Baranczak (review date 29 July 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Peter Kemp (review date 25 October 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

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Carole Angier (review date 13 December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Neal Ascherson (review date 19 December 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Carole Angier (review date 2 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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James Naughton (review date 16 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Dennis Drabelle (review date 18 April 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Peter Filkins (review date summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Karen von Kunes (review date autumn 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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Peter Sherwood (review date 18 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Adam Zamoyski (review date 10 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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B. R. Bradbrook (review date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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;...

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Gabriele Annan (review date 20 April 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,


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Peter Z. Schubert (review date summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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B. R. Bradbrook (review date summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Peter Sherwood (review date 31 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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David Irvine (review date 3 January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Scott Bradfield (review date 25 January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Ivan Klíma and Rob Trucks (interview date May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Ivan Klíma and Mark Schapiro (interview date 17 May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Jonathan Levi (review date 5 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Alan Brownjohn (review date 10 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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B. R. Bradbrook (review date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Nick Laird (review date 26 October 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


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E. J. Czerwinski (review date spring 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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