I met Milan Kundera in 1975, within the Gallimards’ house on rue de l’Université [in Paris]. Among the many company, I noticed a tall man in denims and a crew-neck sweater. He appeared somewhat embarrassed by his massive physique. He had an actual “mug,” huge, all hollows and bumps. The darkish, deep-set gaze, underneath the readily inquisitive eyebrows, after which instantly, because the dialog progressed, an inimitable smile of tenderness, of complicity as if, in a short time, there was laughter within the air.
His “pupil” facet struck me. Vera, his spouse, was at his facet, watching over him. All I may see of her have been her clear eyes and the delicacy of her options. She helped him specific himself in his stammering French.
Later, he invited me to his house on the rue Littré. Right here too, white picket cabinets, a naked house, editions of his favourite authors, usually in German: Robert Musil, his beloved Hermann Broch, Thomas Mann, after all, and Kafka. The place was somewhat spartan, with none affectation, and struck you as one way or the other short-term as if, not far-off, the suitcases have been nonetheless there. A few of his drawings on the partitions appeared to me to have a somewhat surreal, playful inspiration.
From shyness to shock
Throughout conversations, he by no means talked about his works however requested so much concerning the Parisian literary scene, with a dose of irony. His dialog revealed that he knew the literary press nicely. Along with this familiarity, he would ask many pointed questions concerning the individuals who ran the editorial departments of the foremost newspapers. He dreaded tv appearances just like the plague. However, he and Vera have been fiercely adamant about controlling press pictures of him. He needed Vera’s pictures printed first. Every time anybody needed to speak concerning the content material of his novels, he would make a shocking gesture, as if swatting away an unwelcome fly in entrance of his face, as if to say, “No, let’s speak about one thing else.”
There was no query of insisting. Because the conferences progressed, I went from being very shy (I stated to myself: “You are trying on the Goethe of your era”) to being stunned by such frankness.
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One other shock: he needed me to admire his work as a carpenter, as he had constructed his white picket work desk himself. Vera ready the lunches a number of occasions; solely as soon as did she insist on having me style a peasant soup made with spices, eggs, dill, garlic, potatoes and mushrooms. Scrumptious.
I as soon as informed Kundera-Goethe that I used to be a cult follower of his ebook Risibles amours (Gallimard, 1986 [Laughable Loves]), and he instantly replied: “It is my finest ebook.” And that is all he stated.
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