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March 14-20, 2007

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'The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts'

The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts
(By Milan Kundera; translated from the French by Linda Asher; HarperCollins; 168 pages; $22.95 cloth)

Novelist Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) makes a case for the significance of the novel, beginning with Cervantes. Epic heroes retain their grandeur even in defeat, but Cervantes' comic knight is defeated, and "All we can do in the face of that ineluctable defeat called life is to try to understand it. That—that is the raison d'être of the art of the novel." Nimbly hop-scotching literary peaks, Kundera touches on Tom Jones ("'Invention is the key word for Fielding"), Sterne (who "renounces story completely" in Tristram Shandy) and the "passion for the ephemeral" of 19th-century masters like Balzac. In the 20th-century examples (Hermann Broch, Robert Musil), Kundera carves out a place for the novel that is "independent of any system of preconceived ideas; it does not judge; it does not proclaim truths; it questions, it marvels, it plumbs." This compact essay plumbs and marvels like a good novel.

Review by Michael S. Gant


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