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Between Security and Insecurity

Ivan Klíma

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To purchase Between Security and Insecurity

Title: Between Security and Insecurity
Author: Ivan Klíma
Genre: Essay
Written: 1990
Length: 87 pages
Original in: Czech
Availability: Between Security and Insecurity - US
Between Security and Insecurity - UK
Between Security and Insecurity - Canada
  • Translated by Gerry Turner
  • A volume from the Prospects for Tomorrow series, edited by Yorick Blumenfeld

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Our Assessment:

B- : brief perspectives, interesting but too simplistic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today A Spring/2000 E. J. Czerwinski

  From the Reviews:
  • "If the topics seem somewhat banal at first glance, they acquire an urgency and immediacy in the hands of the Czech writer. It is a small book with some great observations." - E. J. Czerwinski, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In nineteen chapters (and a preface) covering less than a hundred pages Ivan Klíma offers reflections on the present and the future. In these brief chapters he considers a variety of aspects of modern life and what he sees as hope (and danger) for the future.
       Klíma begins by looking at what he sees as the major changes in the world today: our new concept of time, the crisis in faith (religious and secular), the change in how we live (in cities, where we are dependent on an artificial world, with different concepts of family and familiarity), the cult of entertainment. He looks at broad subjects, titling chapters simply: "Hope", "Love", "The Family". He speaks of the "abdication of art" and the failure of artists to address the needs of society, looking instead only to shock and attract notice. He voices concern about modern idolatry, specifically regarding the worship of sports stars and actors and actresses, while the true heroes are ignored.
       Klíma does see positive signs as well, believing that deep down people still want the good old-fashioned values, valuing family higher than fame, looking towards the good of society over the individual. He sees environmentalism and the like as a positive focus for the young. And he sees the possibility of affecting change through the mass media, family, and schooling.
       The work is balanced between pessimism and optimism, warning about the future, but also expressing hope that, with a bit of prodding and effort, it might turn out alright.
       Klíma comes from a tough place -- not just communist Czechoslovakia, in which he also faced difficult times, but specifically World War II. As he mentions in the second paragraph of his preface:

My childhood was not the easiest, since a quarter of it was spent in a concentration camp. Most of my relations and childhood friends perished.
       That's a whole load of baggage, for reader and author alike. Klíma does not place a particularly great emphasis on these experiences, but he acknowledges that "it must have had an effect on me." They are also a burden for this book: with arguments, examples, and explanations that are so succinct that they often border on the trite, much of this book rests on Klíma's moral authority (real or imagined). Obviously his experiences give him a perspective that most cannot even imagine -- and one which is difficult to contradict or criticize.
       When he writes about art in the camps it is certainly moving and convincing:
Anything that had a link with art helped us transcend the horror of camp life and rescue us from the terror that dogged our every step.
       Certainly, most would agree with him that art can be marvelous, and both transformative and entertaining. Art (including Klíma's fiction) played a significant role in Czechoslovakia's dark days in recent decades -- but in a changed world the same art is no longer as influential and it is difficult to see what art can assume a similar position.
       Klíma is sincere but naïve when he writes:
If strong enough opposition to the most degenerate genres can be fostered within society, leading, for instance, to an organized boycott of certain television programmes that have a clearly negative effect on young people's moral integrity, or a boycott of products whose advertisements pay for such productions, the mass media producers might come up with some different ideas.
       From the definitional problems (what has a "clearly negative effect" ?) to the practical ones (familiar from many such boycotts), the mass media continues to produce ever more offensive material. In prudish America it is sex that is taboo while the far more dangerous displays of violence are revelled in. Klíma's solution has a superficial appeal, but has proven essentially unworkable (and, when put into practice, often counterproductive). Klíma shockingly also goes so far as to suggest that the government and the courts should step in "when products of the entertainment industry overstep acceptable bounds" -- apparently forgetting many of the lessons he might have learnt under previous regimes in his homeland.
       Klíma also places great hopes in spirituality, an idealism that one would think he could have dismissed long ago. It is something to cling to, but surely experience (and the state of the world at this very moment) show that few institutions have failed society as gravely as those professing spiritual leadership and guidance.
       Throughout the book Klíma's bald statements and simple solutions are not adequately spun out or reasoned to fully convince. He is, roughly, correct in much of what he says, but without further explanation and elaboration there is little one can do with much of this except ultimately dismiss it. There are valuable elements and sentiments here, but they are cobbled together, too much in too little space, an ambitious hodgepodge which loses itself in its uneasy mix of grand themes and minutiae.
       Between Security and Insecurity reads like a college commencement address -- quite well written and presented, a good mix of anecdotes, stories, and advice. Perhaps, as such it might be acceptable, but really Klíma makes suggestions and statements that are too ill-considered (and even dangerous) for it not to be thoroughly challenged. There are many points to consider here, and Klíma's point of view is often an interesting one (though it also tends to be simplistic, especially regarding spirituality and notions of "family"). A small book, it can be read quickly -- but it should be digested slowly. There are points for discussion here; too bad Klíma chose not to spend more space doing so.

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Ivan Klíma: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Czech author Ivan Klíma was born in Prague in 1931. He is the author of numerous acclaimed novels and his work has been translated into 30 languages.

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