by Bill Marx
In a recent World Books podcast I talk to Romanian-born essayist and novelist Norman Manea about his article, “A Lasting Poison,” which was published last month in the “New Republic.” In his commentary, Manea explores the recent revelation that, in 1950, the then 20-year-old Czech writer Milan Kundera denounced a man as a Western spy to the criminal police. The man was sent to prison. Kundera denies the charge, but for Manea the case raises important issues about truth and history, even if there is, at the moment, no definitive answer.
For some, the charge against Kundera should trigger a witch hunt. For others, what happened 60 years ago doesn’t matter all that much because Kundera is a great artist. For Manea, both responses are symptomatic of superficial approaches to the Stalinist past. In “A Lasting Poison,” Manea suggests a middle way – a nuanced moral response to the facts of the case.
Manea teaches at Bard College. His most recent book is the memoir “The Hooligan’s Return.” Three volumes of his fiction are also available in English as well as a collection of essays entitled, “On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist,” which examines the battle between tyranny and creativity. He has recently been awarded the 2009 Literary Prize of the Fondation du Judaisme Francais.
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