cover image My Crazy Century

My Crazy Century

Ivan Klíma, trans. from the Czech by Craig Cravens. Grove, $30 (576p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2170-7

Acclaimed dissident Czech playwright and novelist Klíma (Love and Garbage) surveys several varieties of political insanity in this absorbing memoir. His life began in deranged horror as his Jewish family barely survived internment in the “model” Nazi concentration camp in the Czech city of Terezín; after the war, he grew disillusioned with the irrationality of the new Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, especially when his father, an ardent Communist, was arrested on trumped-up accusations of sabotage. Most of his narrative takes place during Czechoslovakia’s post-Stalinist “weary dictatorship.” Klíma, then a prominent editor, wrestled with censors and adapted to the idiocies of official literary ideology. After the Prague Spring in 1968, his books were banned and his life became a labyrinth of police harassment and cat-and-mouse games with government interrogators who barely pretended to believe their own prosecutorial gambits, while a seemingly futile samizdat movement simmered underground. The author relates all this with a mordant humor and a limpid prose that registers both the overt fear that repression engenders and the subtler moral corruptions it works in victims and perpetrators. He finishes with a series of penetrating essays on the underpinnings of totalitarianism, from its utopian fantasies to its sordid practical compromises. Klíma’s searching exploration of a warped era is rich in irony—and dogged hope. (Nov.)