When the Communist Party came to power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, Ivan Klíma was abroad in London. He could have stayed there, but he chose to return to his native Prague, explaining that “most of London’s street names have no associations for me.”
Klíma, one of Bohemia’s leading writers, was used to living under totalitarian regimes. As a child, he wrote poems in the Terezin concentration camp. In communist Prague, the government forbade him from publishing within the country–and so, for 30 years, Klíma had the odd fortune to be a bestselling author in several countries, but banned in his own.
Love and Garbage (Láska a smetí, 1986), regarded as his masterpiece, announces on the first page that it’s a work of fiction. But the main character, like Klíma, is a survivor of the camps, a Czech Jewish writer who’s no longer permitted to write. The story flashes back and forth through different parts of the narrator’s life–he is a middle-aged man indulging in an affair with another blacklisted artist; he is a garbage collector, combing through other people’s discarded memories; he is an 11-year-old child whose best friend has just been killed by the Nazis. And he is all of these people at once.