Page 133. " Prochazka "

Jan Procházka (1929-1971) was a Czech film scenarist and prose writer, and author of Long Live the Republic. He was one of the radical socialist members of the Czechoslovak Writers’ Union, along with Kundera, Ludvík Vaculik (see Bookmark for “the Two Thousand Words, page 211), and Ivan Klíma. At a Communist Party summit in Dresden, East Germany, in March 1968, Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev (see Bookmark, page 199) gave a speech that openly accused Prochazka of leading a counter-revolutionary conspiracy.

As Tomas says, Prochazka was “one of the best-loved figures of the Prague Spring” (Bookmarks, pages 25 and 26). The celebrated Czech playwright Václav Havel, who would be elected president of the Czech Republic in 1989, after the Velvet Revolution that overthrew Communist rule, mentions Prochazka’s activities around the time of the Prague Spring several times in his book-length interview-memoir Disturbing the Peace.

As Kundera relates via the narrator of Unbearable Lightness, the Communist regime tried to humiliate Prochazka by broadcasting private conversations picked up by bugs in the flat of a professor friend of his, two years before. The narrator finishes the story later (section 19 of Part Five, pages 228-229), by noting that two weeks after the broadcasts, Prochazka entered the hospital with terminal cancer, and even “was operated on in the presence of the police.”

Page 134. " Zofin Island "

Žofín Island is the most famous and popular of the islands in the Vltava River in Prague. In the past it was known as Sofie Island (Zofie in Czech), after Princess Sofie, the mother of Frantisek Josef (Franz Joseph), the Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia from 1848 to 1916. Its official name today is Slovanský ostrov (Slovansky Island).

The Zofin Palace, a neo-Renaissance structure, has hosted many balls and concerts. Liszt, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Dvořák (see Bookmark, page 97) and Smetana all performed there.

Google Map
Page 136. " Tyn Church "

The Church of Our Lady before Týn
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Church of Our Lady before Týn - Credit: VitVit
More properly known as The Church of Our Lady before Týn, the gothic Tyn Church in Old Town Prague dates from the 14th century and has been the main church for this part of the city since then.

Before that, the site was occupied by a Romanesque church from the 11th century, and then an earlier gothic structure built in 1256. Four small spires top the church’s two towers.

The great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe is buried here.

Page 136. " Old Town Hall "

Prague Astronomical Clock
Creative Commons AttributionPrague Astronomical Clock - Credit: Krzysiu "Jarzyna" Szymański
Historic structure in the Old Town Square of Prague, whose tower contains the Prague Astronomical Clock. The tower also offers a panoramic view of Old Town Square, Old Town in general, neighboring cathedrals, and the world’s only Sex Machines Museum.

Page 136. " Warsaw, Dresden, Berlin, Cologne, Budapest "

This is a list of great European cities which the narrator notes were “all horribly scarred in the last war.” Some are associated with subsequent works of literature that relate to their wartime experiences; for example, the bombing of Dresden is at the heart of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five, and Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto and its resistance to the Nazi occupation is the setting for John Hersey’s The Wall.

Page 138. " Vltava "

The Vltava, which runs through Prague, is the longest river in the Czech Republic. Its source is in the mountains and forests of Bohemia in the south. It then flows north through the center of the country to merge with the Elbe River, one of the major rivers of Europe that flows 680 miles from the Krkonoše Mountains in northwest Czech Republic to the North Sea at Hamburg, Germany.

The Vltava in Prague
Public DomainThe Vltava in Prague

The Vltava actually has more water than the Elbe, but since it joins the latter at a right angle, it is counted a tributary.

The Vltava is also known as “The Moldau,” which is the name of the most famous of Czech composer Bedřich Smetana’s six symphonic poems Má vlast (My Fatherland).

Page 141. " John F. Kennedy "

Kennedy in his Senate office, 1959
Public DomainKennedy in his Senate office, 1959 - Credit: LOOK magazine photograph collection, Library of Congress
John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy (1917-1963) was the 35th President of the United States. He served with distinction in World War II as commander of Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109, then was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on behalf of the state of Massachusetts from 1947 until his election to the Presidency in 1960.

A photo of the late American president (assassinated five years before main portion of the Unbearable Lightness) hangs on the wall of “the ambassador,” formerly an actual ambassador who lost his position after the Russian takeover and now has a job as night attendant at the hotel where Tereza gets a job waiting tables at the bar.

The Kennedy portrait is mentioned again later, when Tereza discusses the mysterious engineer with "the ambassador" (section 24 of Part Four, page 163).

Kennedy became a symbol of youth and freedom for people and nations all over the world in the 1960s. Many countries who had very little to do with the United States otherwise put Kennedy on their postage stamps.

Page 147. " Petrin Hill "

A hill and park that rises above the left bank of the Vltava River in the middle of Prague. It is almost entirely covered with parks, as well as a small steel framework tower that, by virtue of standing at the top of the hill, is actually higher above the city than Paris’s Eiffel Tower.

Petrin is a favorite recreational area for Prague residents, and aside from its appearance in Unbearable Lightness, also plays a central role in Franz Kafka’s story “Description of a Struggle.”


Petrin Hill from the Charles Bridge
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePetrin Hill from the Charles Bridge - Credit: Ludek