Tag-Archive for ◊ Parisian friend ◊

Author:
• Friday, June 14th, 2013

Milan Kundera was born in 1929 in Brno, the Czech Republic, from a middle class family. His father was a musicologist and a pianist. Milan learned to play the piano from his father and later studied musicology and musical composition.

Kundera finished secondary school in 1948. He then studied literature and aesthetics at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague for two terms, before transferring to the Film Academy to learn film direction and script writing. He graduated in 1952 and worked as lecturer in world literature at the Film Academy.

He joined the communist party in 1948 like several intellectual Czechoslovaks of the time. He was expelled from the party two years later, for having “unorthodox inclinations”. However he rejoined the party again in 1956 and was discharged once more in the seventies.

Kundera’s works were banned and he was dismissed from his teaching job by the Czechoslovak communist regime after taking part in the short-lived liberalisation movement of 1967-1968.

In 1975 Kundera and his wife left Czechoslovakia for France, where he was appointed guest professor at the University of Rennes. He was stripped of his Czechoslovak citizenship in 1979 and lived in exile in France, becoming a French citizen in 1981. Presently he lives with his wife in Paris.

He has written novels, a short story collection, a poetry collection, essays and drama. In 1985 he received the Jerusalem Prize and in 1987 won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. In 2000 he was awarded the international Herder Prize and in 2007 he won the Czech State Literature Prize. He was made an honorary citizen of his own home town, Brno, in 2010 and received the Ovid Prize in 2011.

“Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return”, says the long exiled Kundera at the beginning of his philosophical novel Ignorance. This sentence sets the main themes of the book which are: emigration, nostalgia, the longing for homecoming and the indifference that follows once back home as well as the deliberation on recollection and about human fallibility, creating a state of amnesia and ignorance. These are topics understandably close to the author’s heart, emigration being a first-hand experience for him.

Pregnant Irena, her husband Martin and their young daughter, leave their homeland, Czechoslovakia in 1969, one year after the Russian invasion, to seek refuge in Paris.

After twenty years of exile, Irena is now a mother of two daughters and a widow. With her new Swedish companion Gustaf, they decide to go back and live in the post-communist Czech Republic.
At Paris airport, while waiting for the Prague flight, her path crosses Josef – a short time heart-throb from adolescent days. He is also by coincidence, returning to his country for a brief visit after his wife’s death and twenty years of exile in Denmark.

The two uprooted protagonists, once back home after a long absence, are disillusioned to find their past forever gone. They don’t know how to pick up the threads. They come back to a completely transformed country from the one they remember, which no longer exists except in their own memories. They feel estranged in their native land among their compatriots and their families with whom they no longer have anything in common. They suffer through loss of identity as well as solitude for not fitting in with others.

Irena and Josef’ feel that their families and friends ignore them, as well as showing no interest in their lives in exile during the past twenty years. Irena, once in Prague, invites her friends and offers them an expensive French 1985 vintage Bordeaux wine but her friends who wanted “to teach (her) a lesson in patriotism” ask to drink beer instead. Irena believes that “rejecting the wine was rejecting her. She, as the person she is now, coming back after so many years…Either she succeeds in being among them as the person she has become, or else she won’t stay” because with their aloofness and disinterest in all she has been through abroad, they are erasing twenty years of her life.

Irena, on reflection, decides that her once beloved Prague of the old days is now completely alien to her. That is when she realises with assertion that she is more mature and wants to lead a life of her own and not stay in this city as it stands now. Her apprehension for the “Great Return” to the post-communist Czech Republic, occurs at the beginning of the book during her conversation with Parisian friend, Sylvie, who encourages her to go back home and reconnect with her past. After a short visit to Prague, Irena’s presentiment is proven to be correct – she no longer belongs to this new country.

Josef also feels the same as Irena and decides to go back to Denmark to continue living true to the memory of his deceased beloved wife. He was convinced after the disappointing visit to his older brother and his wife, followed by the visit to N., a Czech friend from forty years ago. To his surprise and sorrow, he discovers that neither his friend N. nor his wife are interested in his life and experiences during all his long years abroad. Josef discovers that even his mother tongue has become unfamiliar to his ears, as if it was “some unknown language”. He wonders what happened to Czech during these last two decades while he was away.

Just like Odysseus when he came back home after being tortured by his nostalgia and was eager to return to his beloved Ithaca after his long absence. To his great astonishment and affliction, he discovers “that his life, the very essence of his life, its centre, its treasure, lay outside Ithaca, in the twenty years of his wanderings. And this treasure he had lost and could retrieve only by telling about it”.

The several themes meditated, philosophically analysed at length and historically paralleled with Odysseus in the Odyssey, plus the inclusion of the Czech poet Jan Skacel, the Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg and the German writer,Thomas Mann, override the development of the one dimensional characters in the book. Kundera mentioned once during an interview, that the “unity” of a book can depend on its theme rather than on its plot.

The double erotic scenes at the end of the novel – between Irena and Josef on one side and her mother with Gustaf on the other, don’t enhance the story. They are gaudy and anticlimactic. They belittle the seriousness of the matters raised in the book, despite what the author says in one of his interviews that:“the erotic scene is the focus where all the themes of the story converge and where its deepest secrets are located”.

A very emotional, short, concentrated and thought provoking book. It analyses human weaknesses and therefore problems that touch many people today. These problems are unlikely to change because they have been with us since the dawn of time. Throughout the centuries, people have been pushed to emigration and homecoming with all that it entails.

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Author:
• Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Abha Dawesar was born in New Delhi, India, in 1974. She obtained a degree in philosophy from Harvard University and started a career in finance which she had to forgo when her two novels, Miniplanner and Babyji became great successes.

Abha Dawesar received the Lambda Literary Award in 2005 and the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award in 2006. She was also awarded a Fiction Fellowship in 2000 by the New York foundation of the Arts. Abha Dawesar lives in New York.

Due to her young age, her bibliography is short, but acclaimed by critics.
She published Miniplanner in 2000.
Her second novel Babyji was published in 2005.
That Summer in Paris was published in 2006.
Family Values was published in 2009.

Abha Dawesar is a self taught video maker and a visual artist. Her photographs have been exhibited in New York City.

That Summer in Paris is the story of a successful, Nobel prize winner, seventy five-year-old Indian writer, Prem Rustum who discovers that his life is nearly over without him seeing the years passing. He realises that he has spent too much time writing novels. In spite of his old age he hasn’t given up on love and decides to rest his pen and enjoy the few years left for him to live, preferably with a charming female soul mate.

Searching on Internet under his name, he discovers unexpectedly messages from one of his admirers, Maya; an intellectual, ambitious, twenty five year old aspiring writer, who admits openly on the web her admiration and passion for his work. He decides to meet her. They felt captivated by each other’s charm straight away and on a whim Prem decides to follow Maya, from New York to Paris, where she has a writing fellowship. The unconventional, uneasy relationship between the two main characters begins.

Prem’s love for Maya will make him reminisce over his old incestuous love with his older sister Meher, to his sensual experience with the two sixteen-year old French girls and will confront him with his rekindled desires and his approaching mortality. The theme of life and death mentioned in the novel, is a subject which Dawesar is obsessed with, as she mentioned it in one of her interviews.

For the romance to take place the author couldn’t have chosen a better clichéd place than Paris, the most beautiful and romantic city in the world, which Dawesar is very found of and visits often. The very meticulous description of the people, the paintings, the city’s streets, restaurants and French gastronomy, the various attractions and art galleries, transports the readers into a different world of romantic fantasy, but also a meditation about ageing, passion, achievement, literature and art.

The detailed and explicit descriptions of the sex scenes are gratuitous, perverse and crude, it undermines an otherwise good story about lost love, relationships and the beauty of how art can influence love and love, art. Which promotes the immortality of real love and genuine art. In her endeavour to sex-up her story, Dawesar belittles the interesting and numerous discussions between Prem, his Parisian friend, Pascal Boutin, the famous novelist and Maya his muse.