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When politics and literature intersect: Kundera, Buckley, Hemingway

October 14, 2008 |  4:57 pm


Czech magazine "Respekt" has published a report that expatriate dissident author Milan Kundera tipped the Communist police off about a western intelligence agent 58 years ago. The normally reclusive Kundera vehemently denies the charge, calling it "the assassination of an author." He told CTK, the Czech news agency, "I am totally astonished by something that I did not expect, about which I knew nothing only yesterday, and that did not happen. I did not know the man at all." Kundera, who was compelled to leave Communist Czechoslovakia in 1975 because of his political views, has lived in France since 1975.

Politics isn't quite as heated here, but taking sides did just lose Christopher Buckley his job -- at the magazine founded by his father, William F. Buckley. Christopher Buckley declared his support for the Democratic presidential nominee in a column titled "Sorry, Dad, I'm Voting for Obama" on the new Tina Brown website the Daily Beast rather than in his back page column at the National Review because he worried that his position might alienate the latter's conservative readers. Turns out that conservative readers are just as aware of the Internet as liberal readers, and when the National Review Online linked to his column, angry e-mails arrived in a deluge. Buckley wrote in a follow-up post:

it became clear that National Review had a serious problem on its hands. So the next morning, I thought the only decent thing to do would be to offer to resign my column there. This offer was accepted—rather briskly!—by Rich Lowry, NR’s editor, and its publisher, the superb and able and fine Jack Fowler. I retain the fondest feelings for the magazine that my father founded, but I will admit to a certain sadness that an act of publishing a reasoned argument for the opposition should result in acrimony and disavowal.

While losing the columnist gig at your dad's magazine has got to hurt, Gawker notes that the publicity can only be good news for the fledgling Daily Beast.

Even while their supporters get in an uproar over a single column, Barack Obama and John McCain can agree on the literature they like. At least in one instance: Both have cited Ernest Hemingway's novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" as a favorite. In a report on NPR this morning, Susan Stamberg examined why the main character Robert Jordan is so appealing to the two candidates. Her report includes a 2002 interview with McCain in which he said, "Robert Jordan was everything I ever wanted to be."

Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Milan Kundera in 1973. Credit: AFP/Getty Images