The Neo-Neocon, in blogging that “It just might be a good time to revisit this quote from Milan Kundera on circle dancing,” cited a long passage from John Updike’s original review of the English translation of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, published circa 1980:
“This book…is brilliant and original, written with a purity and wit that invite us directly in; it is also strange, with a strangeness that locks us out…
“…[T]he mirror does not so readily give back validation with this playful book, more than a collection of seven stories yet certainly no novel, by an expatriate Czech resident in France, fascinated by sex, and prone to sudden, if graceful, skips into autobiography, abstract rumination, and recent Czech history. Milan Kundera, he tells us, was as a young man among that moiety of Czechs–’the more dynamic, the more intelligent, the better half’–who cheered the accession of the Communists to power in February 1948. He was then among the tens of thousands rapidly disillusioned by the harsh oppressions of the new regime: ‘And suddenly those young, intelligent radicals had the strange feeling of having sent something into the world, a deed of their own making, which had taken on a life of its own, lost all resemblance to the original idea, and totally ignored the originators of the idea. So those young, intelligent radicals started shouting to their deed, calling it back, scolding it, chasing it, hunting it down.’
“Kundera’s prose presents a surface like that of a shattered mirror, where brightly mirroring fragments lie mixed with pieces of lusterless silvering. The Communists idyll he youthfully believed in seems somehow to exist for him still, though mockingly and excludingly. He never asks himself—the most interesting political question of the century–why a plausible and necessarily redistribution of wealth should, in its Communist form, demand such an exorbitant sacrifice of individual freedom? Why must the idyll turn, not merely less than idyll, but nightmare?
“The position of a writer from the Socialist world in the West cannot but be uncomfortable. He cannot but despise us for our cheap freedoms, our more subtle enslavements; and we it may be, cannot but condescend to his discovery, at such heavy cost to his life, of lessons that Messrs. Churchill and Truman so roundly read to us 35 years ago.”
Neo-Neocon concludes, “That probably tells you more about Updike’s politics and quality of mind (see much more here) than about Kundera. However, I actually think that, although Kundera doesn’t directly spell out the answer to that ‘most interesting political question of the century,’ the answer is inherent in everything he writes.”