“I know it sounds trivial but I dare to say that since the time I was growing up I’ve constantly been in a crisis. When you’re very young or even younger, or when you’re in a reflective solitude, or even in a literary reflection, you can afford this kind of melancholy. And you can really see it there.” “Interviewer: To me it seems that Kundera’s "Life is Elsewhere" (Život je jinde), was written in a lyrical age, and very characteristic for your work; this kind of lyric, even though in a different sense than Kundera conceived it. The kind of melancholic, pessimistic…” “I like the way Kundera differentiates maturity and the lyrical age. Kundera also once said that lyric is the curse of Czech literature because we only have good lyrical authors, but almost no good prose writers. I understand what he means very well. But I only know one kind of poetry – I don’t distinguish between epic poetry and lyric poetry. Was Mácha a lyric or an epic poet when he wrote Máj? You can reasonably argue that it’s epic poetry at its best.”
“In 1953 – 1959 I worked for the State pedagogic publishing house as an assistant editor. Then I became the editor for the Department of Pedagogical Literature where we translated some wonderful works, mostly by Soviet authors. These books contained, for instance, instructions on how to educate a child during the holidays or how to erect a sanitary outdoor shower. You have to drive a stake into the ground, put up a barrel and make holes in it. Then you put water into the barrel and wait for the sun to warm up the water. You’d also have a pull there – and the kids could shower. So that’s the sort of things we would translate. We even worked on some of Komensky’s works – for the first time. They realized that he wasn’t such an awful idealist and that there were some practical aspects in his work that could be used. So they used a portion of his more realistic thoughts in Soviet pedagogy. It was typical for Soviet pedagogy of those days, that each page was divided up into two halves , one with an instructional text and the other halve with quotations by some outstanding and popular personalities. Most of the quotations were Stalin’s. He understood everything, even pedagogy.”
Interviewer: What was it actually like, the transition from intellectual writing for the Literary papers (that are read by hundreds of thousands of people) to a samizdat author?” “It’s like losing your job. They kick you out and you end up on the street.” Interviewer: But you have perceived it as series of blows, right? One blow following the other? Or was it more of a continuum? “I would describe it as a continuum separated by different blows.” Interviewer: At what point did you actually wind up unemployed and without any means of officially publishing? “In 1970.” Interviewer: Did they expel you from the association of writers… it was actually dissolved, right? “It was dissolved and a new one was created. As comrade Husák used to say: ‘Everyone can err, except for the bearers’. Everybody who subjects himself to criticism will have the opportunity to cooperate. They offered me a position as head of a film group at Barrandov under certain conditions.” Interviewer: What were the conditions?” “Well, what were the conditions… first of all, I would have to consent to the entry of the armies of the Warsaw pact into Czechoslovakia. Secondly, I’d have to cooperate with the secret state police formally, or informally.” Interviewer: Until that time, you didn’t have anything to do with the state police, right? “Not with the state police, but I did have to deal with censorship.” Interviewer: I assume it was more with self-censorship, wasn’t it? “No, with normal censorship, indeed. When I was the editor in the Literary newspaper or when I worked as a playwright at Barrandov, I often had to deal with censorship. It was officially called the Press Oversight Administration.”
“I saw an awful lot of such scenes in the revolution of 1945. I was a healthy and vivid kid who used to spend the day outdoors, moving around town. I was very curious and so I was always where there was something to be seen. In our house, on the same floor that we lived, there lived three German girls. One was married but her husband died in the war. The other two were single. We were great friends because they helped me out with my German. I had to take German classes at school and they helped me with my homework. I used to ring their bell and ask them if they could correct my homework. They always did. We also used to discuss German literature and culture but we never talked about politics or the war. In the revolutionary days, even before the Russians came, these three women were being led away by a patrol of the Revolutionary Guard and I will never forget what I saw. A middle-aged man smashed the head of one of the German women with his bamboo stick - breaking the stick. The German woman fell to the ground and they dragged her down the street. I also saw German girls who had to take apart the barricades. Their hair was cut. I saw an SS-man who was hanged upside down. Allegedly, they made a fire underneath him and burned him alive but I didn’t look on anymore. I saw a lot of things. There was a long column of Germans – civilians and soldiers – who were accompanied by the Revolutionary Guard. They were led up Holečkova Street, to the Sokolský Stadium, where they set up a sort of an internment camp for them. I was a very curious kid so I was accompanying the column all the way. Every hundred or so meters, the Revolutionary Guards would shoot somebody. So Holečková Street was dotted by German corpses. Men, women and even children.”
“Havel was once contemplating how incredibly quick time goes by. ‘Two, three, four, five years go by unnoticed as if they never existed’. It felt like time came to a standstill. It was an unbearable boredom. This is reflected a bit in one of my novels called ‘Bored in Bohemia’. For me, the outer world was dull, indifferent, embarrassing and endlessly small. I personally lived in an inner emigration decoupled from the outer world. This also stemmed from the fact that I didn’t go to work. I was only employed in the last five years as a proofreader. My life revolved around being outside in nature where I spent a lot of my time with my wife. She was an academic painter and we greatly enjoyed being outdoors in nature. We had a weekend cottage in southern Bohemia, in Kleť, where we went very often. So actually, I lived my life in nature.” “Interviewer: What did you actually do for a living?” “Honoraria from abroad.” “Was it enough?” “Well, more or less. Of course there were some tough times.”
It was an ugly time. But I started a couple of wonderful relationships – you can have them even in a concentration camp
Alexandr Kliment was born on January 30, 1929, in Turnov. His father was a Russian émigré and his mother’s origin was on a manor in Příšovice. He was trained as a locksmith and later studied art history at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University and dramatics at the Academy of Musical Arts. He left his studies in the 1950’s and then worked as an editor for the state-run pedagogical publishing house. After the success of his prose, “Maria” (“Marie”), he left the publishing house and worked as a freelancer. He also worked for the Czechoslovak Writer, for the film industry and contributed to a number of cultural journals and revues such as Literary Newspaper (Literární noviny), The Flame (Plamen), Orientation (Orientace) and The Sheets (Listy). Since the 1970’s, he changed jobs frequently, often times freelancing. He was a signatory to Charter 77 and as a result was subjected to many interrogations by the secret state police. During the so-called normalization period in the seventies, he was a frequent contributor to the “samizdat” (“self-publish”) and his texts even made it abroad. He is a prose writer, a playwright and a screenwriter. The following is a list of his works: novels - Maria (Marie, 1960), A Rendezvous Before Departure (Setkání před odjezdem, 1963), stories - A watch With a Fountain (Hodinky s vodotryskem,1965), The Impeccable (Bezúhonní, 1968), fiction - Bored in Bohemia (Nuda v Čechách, 1977), A Happy Life (Štastný život, 1990), for children - An adventure with a Vane (Dobrodružství s větrníkem, 1969), Blue Fairytales, (Modré pohádky 1976), or further - Broadcasting games (Rozhlasové hry, 1975), a collection of poems Heavy Water (Těžká voda, 1961) and others. He was married to the academic painter Jiřina Klimentová (1932-1997). Alexandr Kliment passed away on March, the 22nd, 2017.