Wednesday, March 09, 2005

On a recent school trip to Prague, I stopped in at The Globe, an English-language bookstore and cafe. Two of the three writers featured prominently in the store were to be expected: Milan Kundera, the exiled author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Franz Kafka, the celebrated short story writer.

The third author featured, however, was Ivan Klima, a writer I'd never encountered before.

After reading Klima's Judge on Trial, I'm a bit curious as to why he hasn't received the same acclaim as Kundera within America. All I can come up with is that although Klima is a contemporary of Kundera, he is far less experimental and much more in line with the straight-forward, realist tradition of Slavic writers like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. As a result he doesn't really fit into any of the neat divides along which university literature classes are arranged: too old-fashioned a writer for any contemporary literature classes, but too contemporary (chronologically speaking) for any pre-modern literature classes.

Whatever the reason, the oversight is a shame, because Klima's book is about as good a novel as it gets. Judge on Trial is epic in both historical scope and philosophical theme -- a throwback to the days of the serialized novel, when authors had the incentive and patience to create entire social worlds, as well as the courage to leave their readers impotent in the face of its problems.

I'll spare you a full book review, but very briefly the narrative revolves around Adam Klima, a judge in Communist Czechoslovakia who is also a Holocaust survivor; his life and career illustrate just how insidiously good intentions can yield horrific repercussions.

For anyone searching for their next read, I'd clearly recommend it. You'd be doing yourself a favor, if only because it will re-introduce you to the value and meaning of freedom through numerous lines such as this:
He also knew by now that one would never find freedom in this world -- however perfect were the laws and however great one's control over the world and people -- unless one found it in oneself.


Post a Comment

<< Home