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Love and Garbage Paperback – March 31, 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
Klima wrote this sensuously romantic novel on the timeless theme of the clandestine love affair in response to the misogyny and cynicism he perceived in his countryman Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Donning an orange vest, the narrator--a banned Czech writer--sweeps the Prague streets with a group of the society's other outcasts--an old sailor given to drink, a sickly teenager, a foul-mouthed former beauty, a failed inventor, and an ex-pilot. As they go about their mindless job, the narrator learns of the dreams and sorrows of his coworkers and meditates on the life and work of Franz Kafka, the power of literature, and his relationship with his dying father. He agonizes over his passionate, tempestuous love affair with a talented sculptor, Daria, but in the end chooses his wife of many years for whom he feels great tenderness. A meditation on death, the nature of love and freedom, commitment and guilt, this poetic and gently sad autobiographical novel by a major Czech writer belongs in all libraries collecting modern European literature.
-Marie Bednar, Pennsylvania State Univ., University Park
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top customer reviews
In a nutshell, this is Klima's autobiography and the dilemma of this strange but beautiful novel. I couldn't help but recall Milan Kundera here, even if Klima is probably sick and tired of the comparison. Philosophy plays a big role, plot takes a back seat. Adultery figures large in both writers' work, as it does in Skvorecky's as well. I think it is because in 20th century Czechoslovakia, living meant being in bed with somebody else; you could never be true to one thing. "Sleeping with the enemy" became a common metaphor. The enemy could be yourself. Klima writes that "the most important things in life are non-communicable, not compressible into words...even though he himself tries to do so." Yes, the whole book reverberates with the battle between being true to yourself and being true to the duties you have by being alive, being part of a social fabric, especially one that is odious to you. I'm not sure the battle is won by the end. Nor is it lost. It just goes on. Kafka has to appear, Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, the philosophy of garbage, and the idea that we are tied to life by countless threads which form a net for us, but we break them, others break them, and they slowly rot away, leaving us, at last, alone. Love must be paramount---it is a strong thread, while garbage is dangerous, a rotting agent, especially discarded ideas that still hang around (like Communism in the old Czechoslovakia.) If you read this novel, you must be interested in such thoughts, Klima's many epigrams, and his musings on many subjects. You will find a very clear presentation of the dilemmas of adultery. There are some humorous passages. But it's most of all the tracing of one man's very human struggle with the givens of life--marriage, government, authority of any kind, nature, and love---that will keep you reading to the end. It is not a pop literature novel chockfull of extremes; it is quiet, but it is brilliant.
Even though the narrator is having an affair with a sculptress named Daria, we never see him as a calous womaniser, or anything of the sort. He is merely, like any human being, trying to find the person that will make him whole and keep him form the void.
Escaping the aforementioned central void is soemthing that obsesses Klima's narrator. To him the various relationships that he has are likely safety nets that keep him from the abyss that lurks beneath human existence. His wife and lover are dual nets that keep him hanging on above it, perhaps this is one place in which the characters approach Kundera like cynicism.
However 'Love and Garbage' does not restrict itself to matters of love and runs ts reader throught the gauntlet that is the human experience. Life is viewed from many different ages and viewpoints through the narrator, his wife, his children, his lover and his aging and unwell father. This is all set against the background of the loathsome, totalitarian regime of the time, as well as its "jerkish" traditions and language. The result is a fascinating examination of the human condition.
I like Klima's refusal to give into the cliche, the accepted role, and his determination to peer over into the abyss: the quality he fears and admires in his predecessor Kafka. As with most of his work, you find out less about the streets of Prague than his inner labyrinthine intellect. I do wish, however, that Klima could break out of his familiar narratorial role: his protagonist always seems like himself, despite at the novel's start a disclaimer. Which is wise, considering Klima's faithful rendition of a love triangle that motivates what plot that exists to thread the multiple digressions and sub-plots along. His account of infidelity certainly carries the whole theme of lies and decay forward and grounds the novel in its elaborations.
Actually, the garbage crew proves the least interesting part of this novel, and the relationship between him and his wife and his mistress the most engrossing--I expected to be excited by just the opposite motif! Klima comments elsewhere that he took on the garbageman job as "research" for a novel. On the other hand, under the communist regime, he may not have had many alternatives. See "My Golden Trades" for some of his other tasks.
More admirable than Kundera, in my opinion, is Klima's moral stance; you can read his interview with Philip Roth in Klima's essay collection "Spirit of Prague" to understand more about how the two Czechs differ in their decisions. For readers willing to be moved more by insight than titillation, this is a fine place to begin your introduction to Klima's world.