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Paul TherouxA magnificent short-story writer [whose] best humor always seems to be rooted in authority situations.
— NY Times Book Review
Milan Kundera is a master of graceful illusion and illuminating surprise. In one of these stories a young man and his girlfriend pretend that she is a stranger he picked up on the road—only to become strangers to each other in reality as their game proceeds. In another a teacher fakes piety in order to seduce a devout girl, then jilts her and yearns for God. In yet another girls wait in bars, on beaches, and on station platforms for the same lover, a middle-aged Don Juan who has gone home to his wife. Games, ...
Milan Kundera is a master of graceful illusion and illuminating surprise. In one of these stories a young man and his girlfriend pretend that she is a stranger he picked up on the road—only to become strangers to each other in reality as their game proceeds. In another a teacher fakes piety in order to seduce a devout girl, then jilts her and yearns for God. In yet another girls wait in bars, on beaches, and on station platforms for the same lover, a middle-aged Don Juan who has gone home to his wife. Games, fantasies, and schemes abound in all the stories while different characters react in varying ways to the sudden release of erotic impulses.
Translated by Suzanne Rappaport; introduced by Philip Roth.
"Pour me some more slivovitz," said Klara, and I wasn’t against it. It was hardly unusual for us to open a bottle, and this time there was a genuine excuse for it: that day I had received a nice fee from an art history review for a long essay.
Publishing the essay hadn’t been so easy—what I’d written was polemical and controversial. That’s why my essay had previously been rejected by Visual Arts, where the editors were old and cautious, and had then finally been published in a less important periodical, where the editors were younger and less reflective.
The mailman brought the payment to me at the university along with another letter, an unimportant letter; in the morning in the first flush of beatitude I had hardly read it. But now, at home, when it was approaching midnight and the bottle was nearly empty, I took it off the table to amuse us.
"Esteemed comrade and—if you will permit the expression—my colleague!" I read aloud to Klara. "Please excuse me, a man whom you have never met, for writing to you. I am turning to you with a request that you read the enclosed article. True, I do not know you, but I respect you as a man whose judgments, reflections, and conclusions astonish me by their agreement with the results of my own research; I am completely amazed by it. . . ." There followed greater praise of my merits and then a request: Would I kindly write a review of his article—that is, a specialist’s evaluation—for Visual Arts, which had been underestimating and rejecting his article for more than six months. People hadtold him that my opinion would be decisive, so now I had become the writer’s only hope, a single light in otherwise total darkness.
We made fun of Mr. Zaturecky, whose aristocratic name fascinated us; but it was just fun, fun that meant no harm, for the praise he had lavished on me, along with the excellent slivovitz, softened me. It softened me so much that in those unforgettable moments I loved the whole world. And because at that moment I didn’t have anything to reward the world with, I rewarded Klara. At least with promises.
Klara was a twenty-year-old girl from a good family. What am I saying, from a good family? From an excellent family! Her father had been a bank manager, and around 1950, as a representative of the upper bourgeoisie, was exiled to the village of Celakovice, some distance from Prague. As a result his daughter’s party record was bad, and she had to work as a seamstress in a large Prague dressmaking establishment. I was now sitting opposite this beautiful seamstress and trying to make her like me more by telling her lightheartedly about the advantages of a job I’d promised to get her through connections. I assured her that it was absurd for such a pretty girl to lose her beauty at a sewing machine, and I decided that she should become a model.
Klara didn’t object, and we spent the night in happy understanding.