I heard an interview with one of the founders of London's School Of Life, a place that promises curious fun (home). She described the meals they hold, and among the questions "tabled" is: "When did you realize you were no longer a child?" My initial reaction to that question was, "I hope I am becoming more childlike (as opposed to childish) all the time!" After some consideration of Milan Kundera's past, however, I realized that there is at least one identifiable moment when I understood I was no longer a child: when I comprehended that most, if not all, of my favorite writers were anything but paragons of virtue.
I'm told the Cubans have a saying: "There are only two sorts of citizens: the innocent and the living." Certainly that is a motif that runs through the literature of dissident writers who witnessed Communism firsthand. This is not an uncommon motif in Western fiction either -- and properly so. Even so, revelations like these pose difficulties for readers who love their writers through their work.
Richard Byrne says, "The deeper question ... is how the reader should assess Kundera's approach to many of his pet themes -- memory, betrayal, and the defense of history against the violence done to it by our political leaders East and West." The Anabaptist Confessional side of me is surprised that Kundera's (and Grass's) "approach" wasn't more direct: begin with the worst of who you are, and proceed from there via concentric circles until you've worked out your salvation with fear and trembling, and the odd unexpected measure of grace. Of course, the fearful drunkard in me understands all too well why this approach is to be avoided at all costs.
Milan, Milan: God be with 'im, the poor sod. And perhaps while we're all pondering the deeper question we can address the more urgent one: how do we put a stop to our nation's policy and practice of torture?