‘The Festival of Insignificance,’ by Milan Kundera

Diane Johnson in the New York Times:

21-Johnson-blog427Milan Kundera, now 86, has been living quietly in France since his defection from Czechoslovakia in 1975, seven years after the Soviet invasion that ended the so-called Prague Spring of 1968 and nearly 15 years before the Velvet Revolution that brought down the Communist ­regime. Earlier, he had been an enthusiastic member of the Communist Party, but had left it and become a dissident. Because of this animated political history, he has remained controversial and was criticized by some for running out prematurely on the struggles of his nation. In 2008, he had to refute charges that he had denounced one of his friends to the Communist authorities.

In Paris since then, not surprisingly, Kundera has preserved an apolitical stance. He is rarely seen in public, yet continues as a productive novelist, reworking and recasting the existentialist philosophical and political ideas that have interested him since his now classic novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” brought him wide acclaim in the early 1980s. He has subsequently published, besides essays and a play, four other novels: “Immortality,” “Slowness,” “Identity” and “Ignorance,” exploring subjects that bear intimately upon the human situation, as their titles imply.

His new novel, “The Festival of Insignificance,” divided into seven short ­sections, was, like his other recent work, first written in French. Well translated by Linda Asher, it suggests he has not quite finished with the Soviet era. Slight, almost terse at barely over 100 pages, it resumes his earlier preoccupations and personal history, here set in contemporary Paris.

More here.