A Novelist Under Communism
NO MATTER how often and graphically we are told of the physical and psychological pressures that afflict the writers of Eastern Europe, it remains difficult for us to understand fully and concretely how the policing of the imagination and all its works affects the life of such a writer. We recognize how trying it must be for him to write his books or poems under the menacing shadow of a totalitarian state that trains its unsleeping vigilance on his words. We know that Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuri Daniel, because they “conspired” to have their books published abroad, spent years in concentration camps for this crime, and we are told that such Czech writers as the playwright Vclav Havel and the novelists Ludvik Vaculik and Milan Kundera have been censored and imprisoned not only for signing the civil-rights appeal in Charter 77 but, long before that document was drawn up, for the sins of ridiculing or realistically depicting in their plays and novels the bureaucratic corruption and dreariness of life in a socialist utopia. We shudder to think of the physical hardship Sinyavsky resigned himself to during his seven-year incarceration, and marvel that he scarcely mentions this hardship in his recent book, A Voice from the Chorus, which is drawn from the letters he was allowed to send his wife twice a month.
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