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By Jane Smiley

Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling novelist Jane Smiley celebrates the novel–and takes us on a thrilling journey via 100 of them–in this seductive and immensely worthwhile literary tribute.

In her inimitable style–exuberant, candid, opinionated–Smiley explores the ability of the radical, its historical past and diversity, its cultural effect, and simply the way it works its magic. She invitations us backstage of novel-writing, sharing her personal conduct and spilling the secrets and techniques of her craft. and she or he deals necessary suggestion to aspiring authors. As she works her manner via 100 novels–from classics resembling the thousand-year-old Tale of Genji to contemporary fiction by means of Zadie Smith and Alice Munro–she infects us anew with the eagerness for examining that's the governing spirit of this present to booklet fanatics all over the place.

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The point of this is that though kitsch opposes itself to lightness of being, the true antithesis to kitsch is the weight of love and death in Tereza, the weight with which she envelops Tomas. Kitsch has no answer to death (‘kitsch is a folding screen set up to curtain off death’), just as it has no relation to the true necessities of power and love. Sabina is wholly accurate in her perception of the relation between kitsch and Communism: what she loathes and fears is not Communist ‘reality’— persecution, meat queues, overcrowding, everlasting suspicion and shabbiness, all of which is quite honest and tolerable—but Soviet idealism.

Circle dancing is his metaphor for the intoxicating lure of the group, the mob, what Frye calls the stock response. Kundera pictures his characters joining together to make a circle. They take two steps in place, one step forward, lift first one leg and then the other.... I think I understand them. They feel that the circle they describe on the ground is a magic circle binding them into a ring. Their hearts are overflowing with an intense feeling of innocence.... Circle dancing is magic. This magic is the spell cast by the dream of a paradise where distinctions vanish and all men are brothers.

And the truth is that Kundera’s own aestheticism, his own rebellion against the reality of what he describes, robs his work of any such alternative. Kundera suggests that erotic intimacy promises a real, if already threatened, refuge for individuality in the modern world; hence he often insists that his books are essentially love stories. Yet it must be said that in Kundera’s novels sex is generally a rather chilly, dehumanizing event, an exercise that offers precious little refuge. Not to put too fine a point on it, there is something distinctly creepy about his portrayals of intimate relationships.

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