Books by Ivan Klíma

Released: Nov. 4, 2013

"A fitting capstone to a distinguished literary life and an exposition of one of the main flaws of communism—that 'the betrayal of intelligence leads to the barbarization of everyone.'"
From the Nazi concentration camps to the communist show trials, Klíma (No Saints or Angels, 2001, etc.) shines a vibrant light on the machinery of oppression and the struggles of artists and intellectuals to subvert government control. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2002

"A fine introduction to the work of a writer who ought to have won a Nobel Prize, and who richly deserves future generations of readers."
An informative critical biography, commissioned by the publisher, of the great Czech writer (1890-1938), whose witty allegorical and satirical fiction and drama comprise a treasure trove largely unexplored by contemporary readers. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

"Not quite as deep as it wants to be, but pensively sad in how sheltered it feels, like people crawling from a tomb."
Czech author Klíma (Lovers for a Day, 1999, etc.) returns with a tale about the emotionally lost in contemporary Prague: modern lives haunted by the history of Soviet incursion. Read full book review >
LOVERS FOR A DAY by Ivan Klíma
Released: Sept. 1, 1999

Lovers For A Day ($24.00; Sept.; 240 pp.; 0-8021-1651-5): A disappointing collection of 12 stories, dating from the early "60s through the mid—-90s, from the Czechoslovakian author (The Ultimate Intimacy, 1998, etc.). The early pieces are drearily generic portrayals of the unpredictability and impermanence of romantic love in a politically charged climate where allegiances of all kinds are routinely shattered or betrayed; humdrum glimpses ("The Assembly Line," "The Honeymoon Trip") of "people [who] love . . . longing for it to last but without any hope of its lasting." "Long-Distance Conversations" and "Conjugal Conversations," consisting entirely of dialogue, are particularly weak. Of the (generally much better) later stories, two stand out for being much more fully imagined: "The White House," about a lonely young man's vacillating affection for a beautiful blind girl, and the brilliant "A Baffling Choice," about a married woman's inexplicable attraction to the "senile cripple" who becomes her lover. Both are vintage Kl°ma—the only justifications for an otherwise unnecessary volume. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1998

A beautifully imagined and deeply moving portrayal of temporal and spiritual conflict and crisis, from the ever-improving Czech author of such compelling fictions as Love and Garbage (1991) and Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light (1995). Kl°ma's subject here is Reverend Daniel Vedra, a faithful minister to his varied congregation (which includes the prisoner he dutifully counsels) and a devoted husband and father to his family of four. But Daniel harbors a guilty secret: his ``inability to be intimate,'' to share his inmost feelings, with his plain, submissive second wife Hana; for, as Hana knows all too well, ``his heart belonged to the one who had died.'' Memories of his beautiful first wife Jitka, a cancer victim, indeed preclude Daniel's full involvement in the lives he pretends to share—until he is pursued by a seductive parishioner, a married woman resembling Jitka, and persuades himself that consenting to love is the greatest good he can do. Kl°ma examines this seemingly familiar story from a fascinating variety of perspectives, including Daniel's tortured diary entries and evasive exchanges of letters with correspondents and confidants past and present—and also focuses on Hana's quiet acceptance of her husband's distance as well as on her own reluctant (and innocent) friendship with Matou Volek, a gifted linguist scarred by a combative marriage and attracted by Hana's very placidity. What makes this novel so absorbing, and so painful, is Kl°ma's intense concentration on his characters' perturbed and perversely resourceful moral natures; their desperate self- justifying, and ultimate surrender to the consequences of their actions. A work of great analytical power that transforms discourse and thought into harrowing drama. Kl°ma's best yet. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1995

Czech writer and former dissident Kl°ma (My Golden Trades, 1994, etc.) eloquently limns the troubling dilemma of a life set free too late. Like so many of his contemporaries behind the Iron Curtain, talented filmmaker Pavel Fuka, protagonist of this post- revolutionary novel, tried to survive the dark years with his integrity and ambition intact. But, as Kl°ma movingly details, youthful ideals and a sense of one's own creative powers are not enough to withstand a system devised to crush the human spirit. Pavel, who once believed in something, became a man who ``lacked hope, hope that something in life had real meaning.'' Moving between the past and the recent present, Pavel describes the long years he spent working for state-run television. There, as his requests to film conditions in an explosives factory or a psychiatric hospital were routinely denied, he filmed, instead, meaningless ceremonies, meetings, and interviews. He also recalls early ambitions of filmmaking and travel; a failed youthful attempt to escape and subsequent imprisonment; two futile love affairs; and his present dissatisfactions. He dreams of making a great film, one with the same title as the novel, but when the revolution comes Pavel is no less unhappy, as he embarks on remunerative but sleazy enterprises with former colleagues. The changes come too late: Pavel cannot make his long-dreamed-of film, because ``there's nothing easier than persuading yourself you could really do something if you tried, as long as you know that they'll never give you the chance. The system never allowed you to win, so it saved you from defeat as well.'' A quiet but searing portrait, as powerful as any of Kl°ma's pre-revolutionary novels, of a man and a society irreparably wounded by an oppressive past. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

Once again, Kl°ma (Judge on Trial, 1993, etc.) skillfully explores Prague life under the Communist regime in the trying years before the Velvet Revolution. This time around, Kl°ma offers six stories in which a writer (the author's afterword suggests it is the same writer throughout) finds himself working as everything from a courier to an archaeologist to a surveyor. Sometimes the writer finds pleasure in his new employment: In ``The Engine Driver's Story,'' he dreams of driving a locomotive, despite the fact that his ``non-existent psychoanalyst'' insists that the dream is not about trains but about missed opportunities. Sometimes he finds his new job distasteful: In ``The Smuggler's Story,'' he consoles himself with the fact that ``in the conditions prevailing here, it is rare for someone to be doing what he was trained to do, or what he is suited for'' as he struggles to outwit the police with three bags of contraband books. But the beauty of this particular collection (after all, these themes of conscience, oppression, and expression are par for the course with Kl°ma) lies in the sense of liberty and hope it offers when the writer reaps the unexpected benefits of new experiences. A talentless painter-by-default draws his first true likeness when he must identify a young girl he saw just before she committed suicide; an archaeologist interested in human origins finds the courage to admit (at least to himself) to hearing the voices of the home spirits in a 2,500-year-old burial ground. Few writers have the talent or insight to infuse old themes with new life when, according to Kl°ma's narrator, ``we have declared progress to be our idol'' so that ``the furious hunt for novelty [has become] diseased and self-destructive.'' But in this piercing, rich collection, Kl°ma does just that. A master delivers. Read full book review >
JUDGE ON TRIAL by Ivan Klíma
Released: April 6, 1993

Kl°ma (My First Loves, 1988; Love and Garbage, 1991) writes here about Adam Kindl, a Czech judge who lives in a state of perpetual contradiction. Survivor of a concentration camp in his childhood, provincial lawyer, husband to a woman who's fallen for a young and silly student, friend of dissidents for whom he does favors despite his own official position, Adam is a man always pulled between the axes of his own conscience and the humilities of fate. He feels himself forever being set up. In the meantime, his superiors have assigned him to a murder case they fully expect to yield the death penalty—exactly the verdict Adam has made his small career arguing against philosophically. By the same token, his response to his wife's infidelities is to take a mistress himself, the wife of a friend, plunging him into a two-facedness causing almost more entanglement than he can manage. Kl°ma's most authoritative pages are the domestic ones—the jagged demands broken faith makes; he writes well and painfully about desperate attempts to restore love. But the novel is snapless, boggy, gray, and long. Predicament can hold one's interest only so long before drama kicks in—and it almost never does here. Earnest, but slow and unrelieved. Read full book review >
Released: May 2, 1991

One of those classic semiautobiographicl European novels in which ideas are as important as plot, by Czech writer Kl°ma (My First Loves, 1988). A dissident writer, living in Prague and unable to get published, finds a job sweeping the streets, but this daily pursuit of the city's trash becomes as much a journey into the writer's past as a meditation on literature in general, Kafka in particular, and the conflict between freedom and guilt. A childhood survivor of the Prague Ghetto, and haunted by the deaths he witnessed, the writer found his salvation in literature: ``I realised the amazing power of literature and the human imagination generally: to make the dead live and stop the living from dying. I was seized by wonder at this miracle...and there began to spring up within me a longing to achieve something similar.'' He relates his long extramarital affair with a sculptor; introduces his fellow- sweepers, all victims of the system; and recalls his dying father, an engineer who loved numbers and life. Oppressed by guilt and painful memories of the affair he ended because he was unable to live a lie, he sees the world on the edge of the Apocalypse, and filled with garbage and the lies people tell. When his father dies, he gives up his sweeping joba job undertaken, he decides, because ``Man longs for a cleansing but instead he starts cleaning up his surroundings. But until man cleanses himself he's wasting his time cleaning up the world around him.'' Remembering his father's laughter, and his advice never to cry, he feels a measure of peace. Rich with allusion and insights, the deceptively simple story sometimes gets lost in his musings, but Kl°ma's portrait of a man and an artist trying to live honorably in his personal and professional life is a noteworthy achievement. Read full book review >