Page 252. " the gulag as a septic tank "

Prison laborers at the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal
Public DomainPrison laborers at the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal
The chain of prison and work camps across the former Soviet Union was dubbed “The Gulag Archipelago” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. “Gulag” is an acronym from the Russian phrase translated as “The Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies.”

There were at least 476 separate camps, from Eastern Europe and downtown Moscow to the farthest reaches of Siberia, through which more than 14 million people passed between 1929 and 1953, and it has been estimated that nearly 2 million died. This photograph of prisoners being made to work on the White Sea-Baltic Canal dates from roughly 1931-1933.

Page 260. " President Carter "

President Jimmy Carter
Public DomainPresident Jimmy Carter
This passing reference to U.S. President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. helps to place the abortive Cambodia march and Franz’s impending death several years after the deaths of Tomas and Tereza in a truck crash. That fatal accident occurred about 1975, and Carter was president 1977-1981. Vietnam invaded Cambodia in November 1978 to stop the Khmer Rouge genocide, so Franz must have participated in the march and gotten mugged in Bangkok in about 1979.

Page 268. " Sorbonne "

Front entrance to the Sorbonne
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeFront entrance to the Sorbonne - Credit: Carcharoth
The name “La Sorbonne” is often applied familiarly to the University of Paris, although the name has had many different usages over the centuries. It derives from the Collège de Sorbonne, founded by Robert Sorbon in 1253 as one of the first major schools of the medieval University of Paris, already a century old then.

Suppressed by the French Revolution, reopened by Napoleon in 1808, the college finally closed permanently in 1882. The name survived as a colloquial term for the entire university.

Page 270. " a Biblical name "
St. Peter by Rubens
Public DomainSt. Peter by Rubens

There are many Simons in the Bible, from Simeon the second son of Jacob and Leah (Book of Genesis) to Simon Peter (St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles), Simon the Zealot (another of the apostles), and Simon Magus (an early Christian writer mentioned in the Book of Acts). The narrator probably does not mean to refer to any particular one -- just to say that it’s a “good Biblical name.”

This portrait of St. Peter as Pope holding the palladium and the keys to heaven was painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).