1 March 2012

The Ultimate Intimacy

Ivan Klima’s book rises above its setting in 1990s Prague to embrace universal questions of life and moral existence.

My favourite contemporary writer is Ivan Klima, and his latest book, The Ultimate Intimacy" (387 pages) brings into sharp focus all the themes that he has developed in his work: moral choice, emotional confusion and lives constructed in given social environments. The book is a long read consisting of narrative, diary excerpts and letters, but, despite several side plots, always homes in on the central character, the protestant pastor, Daniel Vedra, who can only find intimacy in adulterous love. In a theme, much appealing to me, Vedra moves away from his religious beliefs. In a final letter to his lover, Bara, he writes:

"I told you and others that God's love will redeem us, but I think I was wrong. I don't think there is anyone who would one day judge our faults, forgive us and give us absolution. There is no higher justice than our own. Nothing lasts forever, except forgetting maybe."

In the same letter he reflects on what remains of his previous religious conviction.

"Maybe just the conviction that love is the greatest thing we can encounter in life and the most important thing we may strive for. I'm talking about human love; if God's love doesn’t exist then only the human sort remains: fleeting and imperfect."

While the book is set in a Czech setting and some familiarisation with background events is helpful, the meaning of this book is much greater than any comment on Czech society post Velvet Revolution.

KLIMA, Ivan - The Ultimate Intimacy, Granta 1998.

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