Tuesday, February 09, 2010
And so, with snow days piling up, I was able to complete the Library of America's Zuckerman Bound collection last evening by reading straight through the short novel "The Prague Orgy." I just read a memoir by Tony Judt in the NYRB about young West European radicals in the late 60s who protested Viet Nam and who heaved cobblestones in Paris and yet were totally unaware of the true revolutions happening in Prague and Budapest. Judt notes: "It was the student rebels of Central Europe who went on to undermine, discredit, and overthrow not just a couple of dilapidated Communist regimes, but the very Communist idea itself. Had we cared a little more about the fate of ideas we tossed around so glibly, we might have paid greater attention to the actions and opinions of those who had been brought up in their shadow." I think Roth was of the same opinion (albeit before the crumbling of the Iron Curtain), and sent his alter-ego to Czechoslovakia as a result.
In "The Prague Orgy" Nathan Zuckerman travels behind the Iron Curtain to retrieve the short stories of a friends' father. While in Prague he is trailed by secret police, he is bugged, he is persued by a celebrity actress, he witnesses a grand orgy in an old manse, and he sees what becomes of artists and writers under totalitarian regimes: they sweep floors, they bake bread, they get interrogated and moved further down the social ladder by apparatchiks fearful of their influence. And they fuck a lot, and write in secret, and nobody reads them, but they don't have nervous breakdowns, and they don't get bogged down hopelessly by celebrity.
I think I've only 3 left in the Zuckerman books: The Human Stain, The Counterlife, and Exit Ghost.