Norman Manea on The Lasting Poison of Stalinism

Norman Manea wants a nuanced moral reckoning of the sins committed in the Stalinist past.

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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  1. Tommy Wallach on January 27, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    It seems that the greater an artist is, the more likely he or she is to get a moral bye. I think of Wagner, and Gunter Grass, and now Kundera. Perhaps it isn’t even a double standard. Personally, I’ve always believed that being a bad artist is inherently morally wrong (in that you ought to be doing something less selfish with your time, if you truly don’t have anything important to say to people). Maybe, when you’re a truly great artist, nothing you do outside of creating that art should be allowed into the conversation.

    But as for a “nuanced” moral response, what does that really mean, practically? If we decide that Kundera did act immorally, should we refuse to purchase his books?

    Tommy Wallach

  2. liliana on April 5, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Miercuri, 6 aprilie, ora 10, va avea loc in Sala de conferinte a complexului Conacul Domnesc conferinta cu tema Cititorul contemporan si labirintul interpretarii.

  3. liliana on April 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    A beautiful mind, cerebral wizard like Philip Roth.

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