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His characters occupy a stage that is defined half by Kundera’s imagination, half by the historical reality of recent Czech history.He tends to work with extremely short chapters and a shifting, episodic narrative that together create a montage of images, story lines, and characterizations.
At the same time, we may discover something about the sensibility of the for this species of contemporary fiction.
For despite its obvious literary sophistication, Kundera’s work is also deeply political, drawing heavily on his experience of totalitarianism in an effort to explore the difficult spiritual landscape that his characters populate.
I accepted a few of their offers, but most I turned down.
I couldn’t have gotten to them all, for one thing, and then too it was dangerous. The secret police wanted to starve us out, cut off all means of support, force us to capitulate and make public confessions.
To this end, he has developed a terse, sinewy style, sharply ironical yet urgently engaged.
The narrative is constantly interrupted as Kundera steps back to impart a bit of philosophy, autobiography, or psychological conjecture. With it he perfected his digressive narrative technique, in which themes are stated, developed, transformed, and interwoven more or less on the model of a musical variation—an analogy that Kundera has been fond of invoking when describing his writing.
Kundera pauses throughout to descant on subjects as diverse as mass psychology, the nature of the novel, and the fate of various heroes of the Czech resistance.
In one of two key chapters entitled “The Angels,” for example, Kundera suddenly interrupts his story, recalling that[s]oon after the Russians occupied my country in 1968, I (like thousands and thousands of other Czechs) lost the privilege of working. At about that time some young friends started paying me regular visits.
They were so young that the Russians did not have them on their lists yet and they could remain in editorial offices, schools, and film studios.
These fine young friends, whom I will never betray, suggested I use their names as a cover for writing radio and television scripts, plays, articles, columns, film treatments—anything to earn a living.