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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 1 chapter 11)

2006-08-22 19:13

  11

  To assuage Tereza's sufferings, he married her (they could finally give up the room, which she had not lived in for quite some time) and gave her a puppy.

  It was born to a Saint Bernard owned by a colleague. The sire was a neighbor's German shepherd. No one wanted the little mongrels, and his colleague was loath to kill them.

  Looking over the puppies, Tomas knew that the ones he rejected would have to die. He felt like the president of the republic standing before four prisoners condemned to death and empowered to pardon only one of them. At last he made his choice: a bitch whose body seemed reminiscent of the German shepherd and whose head belonged to its Saint Bernard mother. He took it home to Tereza, who picked it up and pressed it to her breast. The puppy immediately peed on her blouse.

  Then they tried to come up with a name for it. Tomas wanted the name to be a clear indication that the dog was Tereza's, and he thought of the book she was clutching under her arm when she arrived unannounced in Prague. He suggested they call the puppy Tolstoy.

  It can't be Tolstoy, Tereza said. It's a girl. How about Anna Karenina?

  It can't be Anna Karenina, said Tomas. No woman could possibly have so funny a face. It's much more like Karenin. Yes, Anna's husband. That's just how I've always pictured him.

  But won't calling her Karenin affect her sexuality?

  It is entirely possible, said Tomas, that a female dog addressed continually by a male name will develop lesbian tendencies.

  Strangely enough, Tomas's words came true. Though bitches are usually more affectionate to their masters than to their mistresses, Karenin proved an exception, deciding that he was in love with Tereza. Tomas was grateful to him for it. He would stroke the puppy's head and say, Well done, Karenin! That's just what I wanted you for. Since I can't cope with her by myself, you must help me.

  But even with Karenin's help Tomas failed to make her happy. He became aware of his failure some years later, on approximately the tenth day after his country was occupied by Russian tanks. It was August 1968, and Tomas was receiving daily phone calls from a hospital in Zurich. The director there, a physician who had struck up a friendship with Tomas at an international conference, was worried about him and kept offering him a job.

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