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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 2 chapter 24)

2006-08-22 20:21

  24

  She took some fifty prints with her to Switzerland, prints she had made herself with all the care and skill she could muster. She offered them to a high-circulation illustrated magazine. The editor gave her a kind reception (all Czechs still wore the halo of their misfortune, and the good Swiss were touched); he offered her a seat, looked through the prints, praised them, and explained that because a certain time had elapsed since the events, they hadn't the slightest chance ( not that they aren't very beautiful! ) of being published.

  But it's not over yet in Prague! she protested, and tried to explain to him in her bad German that at this very moment, even with the country occupied, with everything against them, workers' councils were forming in the factories, the students were going out on strike demanding the departure of the Russians, and the whole country was saying aloud what it thought. That's what's so unbelievable! And nobody here cares anymore.

  The editor was glad when an energetic woman came into the office and interrupted the conversation. The woman handed him a folder and said, Here's the nudist beach article.

  The editor was delicate enough to fear that a Czech who photographed tanks would find pictures of naked people on a beach frivolous. He laid the folder at the far end of the desk and quickly said to the woman, How would you like to meet a Czech colleague of yours? She's brought me some marvelous pictures.

  The woman shook Tereza's hand and picked up her photographs. Have a look at mine in the meantime, she said.

  Tereza leaned over to the folder and took out the pictures.

  Almost apologetically the editor said to Tereza, Of course they're completely different from your pictures.

  Not at all, said Tereza. They're the same.

  Neither the editor nor the photographer understood her, and even I find it difficult to explain what she had in mind when she compared a nude beach to the Russian invasion. Looking through the pictures, she stopped for a time at one that showed a family of four standing in a circle: a naked mother leaning over her children, her giant tits hanging low like a goat's or cow's, and the husband leaning the same way on the other side, his penis and scrotum looking very much like an udder in miniature.

  You don't like them, do you? asked the editor.

  They're good photographs.

  She's shocked by the subject matter, said the woman. I can tell just by looking at you that you've never set foot on a nude beach.

  No, said Tereza.

  The editor smiled. You see how easy it is to guess where you're from? The Communist countries are awfully puritanical.

  There's nothing wrong with the naked body, the woman said with maternal affection. It's normal. And everything normal is beautiful!

  The image of her mother marching through the flat naked flashed through Tereza's mind. She could still hear the laughter behind her back when she ran and pulled the curtains to stop the neighbors from seeing her naked mother.

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