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The appearance of Milan Kundera’s “Die Weltliteratur” in the January 8, 2007 issue of The New Yorker provides broad journalistic visibility for a writer more often associated with elite literary venues. That the article in question was excerpted from The Curtain, a new collection of critical essays on the novel, links it to two earlier collections, The Art of the Novel (1986) and Legacies Betrayed (1993), in which Kundera had set forth a defense of major European writers including Rabelais, Cervantes, Sterne, Laclos, Diderot, Stendhal, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Proust. What sets “Die Weltliteratur” apart from the earlier collection is a recent poll in the French press whose ranking of influential writers prompts Kundera to assert his Bohemian roots against his current status as a citizen of France. The new collection also positions Kundera as an interested observer whose longtime residency in his adoptive homeland provides a unique perspective on the culture, politics, and history of his native region.
A final section relates Kundera’s views in “Die Weltliteratur” and in The Curtain to the life of the author’s colleague and friend, Professor Walter A. Strauss (1923-2008).