Page 52. " Vronsky "

Another reference to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky is Anna’s lover -- the third leg of the love triangle that involves her and her husband Karenin.

Page 56. " Nobel Prize "

Nobel Prize
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNobel Prize - Credit: Jonathunder
The Nobels are an array of money-based international awards based in Sweden. The prize was established and funded in 1895 by Dr. Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and inventor.

The initial awards, in 1901, recognized achievements in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Peace. (The Peace prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway as opposed to Stockholm, Sweden.) The Nobel is widely regarded as the supreme honor for work in those fields. An award for Economics was added by Sweden’s Central Bank in 1969.

Each award can be granted to up to three recipients in a year. The award consists of a gold medal, a diploma, and a monetary award, currently worth more than $1.4 million. The one pictured here is an example of one of the awards in Physiology or Medicine awarded to researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in 1950.

Page 59. " seems to have escaped Freud "

Sigmund Freud in 1922
Public DomainSigmund Freud in 1922

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), an Austrian neurologist, was a pioneer of psychiatry. One of his major works was The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), which introduced dream analysis in psychology practice.

After noting that Tomas understood the import of Tereza’s nightmares, which made him feel awful, the narrator criticizes Freud for having overlooked the aesthetic component of the dreaming process in his narrow focus upon psychological meaning alone.

“The dreams were eloquent, but they were also beautiful. That aspect seemed to have escaped Freud in his theory of dreams. Dreaming is not merely an act of communication (or coded communication, if you like); it is also an aesthetic activity, a game of the imagination, a game that is a value in itself.”

The narrator will illustrate his point with the arc of Tereza’s dreams through the story, as well as a couple of Tomas’s incidental dreams near the end.

Page 63. " strictest realism "

This is the first reference in the book to what is more commonly known as “Socialist realism” (see Bookmark, page 91), the term for a narrow range of aesthetic values under Communist regimes, and the only officially approved type of art in the Soviet Union and many of its satellite nations for roughly 60 years during the twentieth century.

Example of
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeExample of "socialist realism" sculpture in a Moscow railway station - Credit: Glaue2dk

In Socialist realism, art is supposed to serve only the goals of socialism and communism, specifically the values and activities of the common worker. Other modern art movements such as impressionism, cubism, and aesthetics that were not strictly realistic, and that employed dream imagery, irony, and other distancing devices, were denounced as “decadent,” and more or less strictly controlled by state censorship. As Kundera’s narrator says, “art that was not realistic was said to sap the foundation of socialism….”

Although Kundera doesn’t explicitly say so, he would probably agree that Socialist realism is a form of “heaviness” against which the “lightness” of Sabina’s aesthetic and moral values runs afoul, just as Tomas’s political dissent will get him into trouble with the Communist government bureaucracy.

Page 63. " socialism "
Trotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev
Public DomainTrotsky, Lenin, and Kamenev
The term for various forms of economic system involving public or worker ownership and administration of the means of production and allocation of resources. In theory, all citizens should have equal access to resources and compensation based on the amount of labor they contribute to the society.

Though there have been many different attempts to put socialism into practice, including the Yugoslavian, Hungarian, German, and Chinese communist governments who all tried to introduce some free-market exchange and free-price system (called “market socialism”), the most prominent form of socialism in the twentieth century was the Soviet model of economic development in Russia, in which the state owned all the means of production and attempted to plan all economic policy

The photo at right, taken at the second Party Congress in 1919, shows Bolshevik leaders Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, and Lev Kamenev.

Page 64. " the kind of hat Chaplin wore "
Charlie Chaplin in the 1910s
Public DomainCharlie Chaplin in the 1910s

Further discussion of Sabina’s black bowler hat, first introduced on page 28 (see Bookmark).

One of the most famous recurring images of a bowler is in many of the comedies of Charlie Chaplin (Charles Spencer Chaplin, 1889-1977), a British-born, world-famous Hollywood star in silent films and a handful of feature films after the advent of sound.

The reference to the slapstick and romantic comedy star gives Sabina's hat more of an anarchic and playful flavor.

Page 67. " Crimean Tatars "

This is a short list of nations and peoples oppressed and murdered by the Soviet regime. Lithuanians are from Lithuania, one of three small Baltic states between Russia and Poland, all of which were overrun by the Nazis and then the Soviets during the Second World War and subject to Soviet rule until 1990.

Natives of Poland, a much larger country closer to Germany, fared much the same. (It might be noted, however, that citizens of both countries participated in the persecution and deportation of Jews under the Nazi occupation.)

Mustafa Abdülcemil Kırımoğlu
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMustafa Abdülcemil Kırımoğlu - Credit: Timurberk / Foto Tamer

Crimean Tatars are a Turkish ethnic group who lived considerably south of the other two countries noted above. Their homeland is the large peninsula almost entirely enclosed by the north side of the Black Sea: south of the Ukraine, north of Turkey, east of Greece and Bulgaria.

In May 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar population was forcibly deported to central Asia by Stalin under the accusation that they had collaborated with the Nazi invaders in the preceding year and a half. An estimated 46 percent of the population died of hunger and disease, and the ethnic cleansing of their home was complete by the end of the year. Though officially “rehabilitated” by the Soviet government in 1967, they were still banned from returning home until the last days of the Soviet Union.

The photograph here is of Mustafa Abdülcemil Kırımoğlu, a leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, member of the Ukrainian Parliament, and former Soviet dissident.

Page 67. " red-white-and-blue Czech flags "

Czech flag
Public DomainCzech flag
The simple design of the Czech flag since 1920 (save for the period of the Nazi occupation from 1938 to 1945) has consisted of two equal horizontal bands -- white on top, red on the bottom -- with a blue isosceles triangle intruding from the flagpole edge.

The red and white came from the ancient coat of arms of Bohemia. Because the result too closely resembled the Polish flag and had the same colors as the Austrian flag, the blue wedge was added in 1920.

Page 72. " the speech Dubcek had given over the radio "

On the evening of August 20, 1968, at the conclusion of the swift invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet tanks (see Bookmark for page 25), Alexander Dubček (Bookmark for page 26) and other Czech reformers were flown to Moscow by Soviet military transport aircraft and made to sign the “Moscow Protocols.” These documents promised to protect socialism in Czechoslovakia, to restrain critical Czech media, to reject any interference from the UN Security Counsel, and other repressive measures.

The narrator describes Dubček’s treatment by his captors and his behavior upon his return to Prague the following week. As mentioned earlier, the narrator likens the humiliation of Dubček to the way Tereza is humiliated in love by Tomas, in section 27 of Part Two (page 75).

Page 72. " Imre Nagy "

Imre Nagy (1896-1958) was a Hungarian politician who served as Prime Minister on two occasions. A spontaneous nationwide revolt against Soviet rule, known as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, occurred during his second period in that office. The Soviet army invaded and crushed the revolution while the West looked on and did nothing beyond a UN General Assembly vote calling on the Soviet Union to end its intervention.

Nagy took refuge in the Yugoslav embassy, and despite a written safe conduct of free passage from Hungarian Communist leader János Kádár, he was arrested while trying to leave, tried for treason, and executed two years later.

On June 16, 1989, Nagy’s body was reburied with full honors. In December 1991, as part of the preamble to the treaties dissolving the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin officially apologized for Soviet actions in Hungary in 1956.

The statue of Nagy on a bridge shown here is near the Vértanúk tere (Martyrs' square), Budapest, facing the Parliament building.

Statue of Nagy with Hungarian Parliament in background
Public DomainStatue of Nagy with Hungarian Parliament in background