Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Milan Kundera's "The Apologizer," translated from the French by Linda Asher, was originally published in the May 4, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

May 4, 2015Please leave any comments you have below while we work at getting some thoughts together.

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By |2015-04-27T14:07:43+00:00April 27th, 2015|Categories: Milan Kundera, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Adrienne April 28, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    This is the first Kundera I have read since college. When I went back to my beloved literature textbook, there was only one piece in there – “The Hitchiking Game” – and it had been ripped out! Why? Was I upset with the story? It obviously stirred something in me. The idea that once you play the game you can’t go back to where you once were?

    I was upset with this one. There is a lot that I did not agree with on a personal level – the personality and purpose of Eve, our agency in coming to this Earth, the “unalienable” rights we have, the purpose of abortion, the purpose of sexuality, the idea of apologizing for living…

    I first revolted against the style. The story begins with a series of thoughts, ideas. Then it shifts into a seemingly unrelated backstory using a different tense and point of view. And finally we are led to the real story – everything else having just been introduction and support. Then when I understood, I wasn’t closed off – I became curious, with a good dose of hesitation.

    All the pieces are brought together for a well-crafted short story full of organic symbolism and natural imagery.

    But I still struggled with the characters’ ideas. And I know that that is okay – sometimes even necessary. For a story is to make us ask questions, not to pose solutions. The hatred was heavy… It was so thick and desperate.

    A mother who doesn’t apologize or hold herself accountable, but blames and assigns feelings and intents to make herself the victim. A son who just wants to be loved by his mother – so much so, that he is willing to have an enabling, codependent relationship with her ghost: “Isn’t it lovely, apologizing to each other?”

    Well-written. I reacted to the ideas with in it in an emotional way. I left the story, still feeling. Frustrated with the things we make up to make our world feel safe or at least “known” to us – when in fact, we can never really KNOW someone else and their minds and hearts. Which is the importance of hope and the fight against despair..

    Kundera must have done something right for I am incited. Ugh. Again.

  2. Trevor Berrett April 28, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Great thoughts, Adrienne, and so great to see your struggle playing out real time! Thanks!

  3. lotusgreen May 1, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    I’m sorry, Mr. Kundera. (Ha ha. Get the little joke?) Probably due to the fact that you feel the need to apologize so much, which, by the way, is not because of any of the things you think it is, but is instead because of your need for power, even if from below, I do not care about you and your mother. And on the off-chance that it’s not autobiographical, I do not care about that guy’s mother either.

    I do not even care about my own mother any more, despite her riding on my back, jumping off bridges, holding boys under the water, or leaving huge gaps in the stories she told to create a universe.

    In fact, I now realize, I do not even care if you forgive me or not for having these feelings. I take back my sorry.

  4. Sean H May 6, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Pretty masterful stuff here, especially for a man who just turned 86. I’m not sure I quite want to deem it a masterPIECE, as I’m not sure if the ending is wholly successful, but man, there’s a reason this guy is literally a living legend and one of the five or ten most canonical writers in the world. His ability to adapt and try on a more contemporary style is particularly impressive as so many older authors get stuck in their “signature” styles and a lot of times their later work sounds like it was dragged out of mothballs. This one was gripping from the start, playful yet solemn, a difficult blend to pull off. The initial triptych of metaphors is downright captivating and even his use of parentheticals throughout the piece manages to somehow stay fresh, clever and literarily sustained (and sustaining). Homages to Woolf and Proust are woven in splendidly. The story has gravitas, purpose and avoids cliche while seeming timeless. A story I will read a few more times this year. Can’t say I find myself saying that too often.

  5. Greg May 7, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Thank you Adrienne and Sean for your comments. You have added to my enjoyment of this story!

  6. Ken May 10, 2015 at 3:55 am

    This I liked. A bit schematic, but like the old hedgehox/fox (I think that’s it) debate–it’s intriguing to consider the world as divided between apologizers and the affronted ones. The problem, though, is most of us combine the traits. The story idea of drowning person murdering their savior is in itself one of the most profoundly original ideas I’ve come across in years. This was a pleasure in its focus after the pointless “shocks” of that last, dreadful story–“Peacetime” Oh, Betsy where art thou? Comest thee back to us.

  7. Cordelia Becker June 19, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    This is a thought provoking perfectly written story. I started to get lost in the middle but I found my way by the end.
    In spite of the protagonist’s rather heavy handed symbolism regarding the ubiquity of exposed belly- buttons, I found the speculations about different era’s take on what makes a woman sexy, interesting.
    The next section takes us from the streets of Paris to the country which the protagonist sees his mother for the last time. She is inscrutable and distant. Her smile is a mix of “compassion and contempt” I have to wonder why she came to visit; there must have been some other reason than just to see her son. He doesn’t remember much about the visit other than her gazing pointedly at his navel and then touching it. Then there is a kiss or maybe not and good-by… forever.

    The next section contains a horrific fable the narrator has concocted. I first took it to be an actual story, by that I mean, I thought it was as real as the rest of the story. If it were as real as the rest of the story I would have hated this story in its entirety, but, to my relief, it is an invention by the protagonist. It was part of the myth he was trying to create of the woman who birthed him and abandoned him.
    It is while walking along and ruminating on his fable that he is slammed into by another woman to whom he apologizes to in a weak voice…only to be called an asshole…which in my mind is sort the opposite of a navel.
    So we have an introduction, a fable and then the story begins.

    He is considering something that I have often considered myself. “Why am I always apologizing?” I thought I do it because that is what women do but clearly Alain does it too and he certainly didn’t get it from his mother because she seems to have never offered any apologies to anyone. He explains to his friend that the one to apologize the one who is guilty, it’s a little like Schrodinger’s cat! To paraphrase:
    …the outcome as such does not exist unless the (measurement changed to: the apology) is made.

    In his room Alain has a photo of his mother (his mother of myth) yet no photo of his “subtle, gentle” father. It is interesting how people are fascinated by people they will never know, like having a photo of a movie star on the wall.
    He talks to her, she imagines her having sex with his father and in those imaginings his subtle, gentle father becomes something like a rapist, impregnating her against her will. He sees himself the product of hatred, not of love.

    A common trope is the young woman with Daddy issues, here we have the counter-point, the man with Mommy issues in spades. Is this what happens to these sorts of men? Instead of ending up on stripper poles they become apologizers?

    A story about belly-buttons brings us to our first mother, Eve, who doesn’t have one. I’ m thinking I should have been eating an apple while I was reading this. But, he has the mother deliver a speech that seems more in line with the Hindu Goddess Kali than the Judeo-Christian perspective.

    On his way to meet his friends one of whom is named Caliban (who names their children Caliban?) We end up in a conversation from the imagined mother who explains that it is wrong to bring people into the world without their permission and for a brief moment she almost considers feeling guilty when she says “ You’re here as you are because I was weak. That was my fault. Forgive me.” We can only conclude that she means it is her fault because she couldn’t abort him. Yikes – gee thanks mom.

    The strangest part of the story is not so much that the guy talks to his dead mother but that he doesn’t seem horribly unhappy. He has friends, he takes long walks and looks at belly-buttons, he even has a girl friend (even though she never answers the phone). I don’t feel any particular anguish from him. So I’m thinking, is his life so bad that he should have been aborted?

    In any case he manages to turn the mother’s apology into his own apology stating he dropped into her life like a turd. She exclaims: “Quit your apologies” She calls him an idiot.

    He is unfazed and explains that he likes to apologize, it brings him happiness to apologize and the reader, that is me…is thinking well is that so bad?

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