Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light by Ivan Klima
First Published in: 1994
Original Language: Czech
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it here: Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light: A Novel
I read Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light about a month ago but have delayed in writing this review because I found the book rather complicated and it required some reflection on my part. The story is set in Czechoslovakia during and after the velvet revolution of 1989. The protagonist, Pavel, is a middle-aged camera man who is living with his girlfriend, her son, and her ex-husband. As a young man, Pavel tried to escape his repressive regime but when we meet him, he is working for a state-run television network producing state sponsored propaganda news. In his spare time Pavel dreams about the movies he wants to make. The novel alternates between sections of Pavel’s real life and his life as imagined by the movies he wants to make.
I don’t want to say too much more about the plot so you can enjoy it for yourself. This was a pretty dark and bleak read but with humor injected throughout. There is a touch of surrealism throughout the book which makes it a more interesting read. Klima does a wonderful job capturing the atmosphere of ordinary people living in a repressive regime while at the same time blurring lines between the reality and fiction. I do have to admit that I was really confused for the majority of the book. It wasn’t until about 3/4 of the way in that I realized how the book was structured. This was a problem for me since the character names overlapped between versions with facts changing throughout. Even after realizing that parts of the book were Pavel’s imagined film, the boundaries were never crystal clear and had me questioning which events were real and which were imagined.
Another interesting element about this book was that it covered a period of transition between the old and new regime and it highlighted the feeling of being stuck between two different eras. His characters are trapped in a system that only allows for self-defeat. At one point the protagonist states:
The system never allowed you to win, and so it saved you from defeat as well.
Characters feel impotent and turn to dreams and fantasy in order to imagine how their lives could have been different.
Despite it’s rather complicated message, plot, and structure, it is a book that is easy to read and doesn’t feel overly dense (unlike many other Eastern European classics). I highly recommend this book, particularly for those readers who enjoy fiction with ties to political realities.
A picture was a motionless record of motion. An arrested representation of life. A picture was the kiss of death pretending to possess immutability.
You can rule with a firm hand, or you can rule through consensus. Those with neither the strength nor the courage for firmness take refuge in the belief that they can remain somewhere in between. But that is an illusion.
Life is waiting for the light, not for the dark,’ she said. ‘My Indian teacher told me that. He was blind.’
It was like a spider’s web with a lot of spiders in it, not just one. They lay in wait for you at every corner of the web. Once you got caught in it you couldn’t get free. And they didn’t suck your blood right away, they’d just very slowly wind you into their web.
Want to try it for yourself? Find it here: Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light: A Novel