REVIEWSrnThe Self-Same Beastrnby Paul HollanderrnJudge On Trialrnby Ivan KlimarnNew York: Alfred A. Knopf;rn540 pp., $25.00rnThe collapse of eommunist systemsrnhas not eliminated the need for arnbetter understanding of the impaet theyrnhad and how and why they persisted.rnOnly in the aftermath of their unravelingrnhas it become possible to gain insightrninto these matters as books earlier suppressedrnare published and as the peoplernof the former communist states speakrnfreely of life in the old days. Actually, therntransformation of some former eommunistrncountries has been so rapid thatrnthere is danger that the past will all toornquickly be obliterated, that much thatrnought to be remembered will too soonrnbe forgotten.rnAs always, literature—and especiallyrngood literature—is the best guide to thernpast, judge On Trial was first publishedrnunderground in Prague in 1978 and wasrnsubsequently revised and published inrnEnglish in 1986. It was written duringrnthe long hopeless years of communistrnrule in Czechoslovakia; Klima, like mostrncitizens of the communist bloc, had norncause to believe that the system was onrnthe verge of destruction. His book helpsrnus to understand the apparent strengthrnand durability of the communist governmentsrnof Eastern Europe and therndocility of the majority who lived underrnthem.rnThe protagonist is a judge who, influencedrnby the experience of Nazi rule, byrnhis father, and by other members of hisrnfamily who belong to the minority of believersrnin Soviet-style socialism, beginsrnhis career as a supporter of the communistrnregime. Having grown up hearingrnthat “politics was the key to everything:rnhappiness, justice and life in general.. .rn[his] conviction grew that it was therncommunist movement which embodiedrncourage, conviviality, wisdom, humanity,rnand all the other virtues.” Later in life.rnthe judge recalls how he once believed.rnWhere selfishness, envy, andrnmeanness were once rife, friendshiprnand comradely love wouldrnprevail. That fanatical and infantilernnotion of friendship, a streetrnin which an apathetic and hatefilledrncrowd was transformed intorna throng of empathizing and understandingrncompassions, hadrncaptivated him so much that hernbelieved he had answered the fundamentalrnquestion, he believed hernknew how to live.rnHis youthful enthusiasm, however,rngradually weakens under the pressure ofrnexperience, including the arrest of hisrnfather (an engineer) on trumped-uprncharges of sabotage. Caution, cynicism,rnand opportunism replace idealism. Thernjudge’s uncle—not unlike Western fellowrntravelers—finds ways to rationalizernthe false arrests (including that of hisrnbrother) of the period:rnMy uncle agreed with me that itrnwas an appalling miscarriage ofrnjustice, and gave us a sermonrnabout the incredible complexity ofrnthe class struggle, when after losingrnthe decisive battle, the enemyrnsought to sneak in everywhere.rnHence it was necessary to investigaterneven the most devoted comrades.rn.. . [The enemy] was employingrnall sorts of shrewd tacticsrnsuch as pretending to be a friend.rn. . . As a result it was impossiblernand unthinkable to trust peoplernabsolutely.rnAmong the lesser-known aspects ofrnlife in the communist system was thernextinction of spontaneity under the inexorablernpressures the system exerted onrnthe citizen to divorce the public fromrnthe private self, to wear what was sometimesrncalled the “party mask,” to engagernin all sorts of role playing, to become arnmatter-of-fact public liar. Thus,rnwhen my uncle had been regalingrnme with his elegant stories aboutrncourage, consciousness, and patriotismrn. . . he had also been awarernof the reverse side of reality: carsrnthat drew up at dawn in front ofrnpeople’s houses; names scratchedrnfrom the covers of books and fromrnpeople’s memories; the sufferingrnof those taken away and the griefrnof those left abandoned; and hisrnown fear. He had known it all,rnbut his grave expression and perfectrnself-control hid everything.rnHe betrayed nothing of that otherrnreality.rnWhile still in high school the judge isrntapped to spy on his fellow students andrnteachers: he is “convinced that [he]rnwould manage to perform all that was requiredrn. . . in a totally fair and unbiasedrnmanner.” Subsequently, at the beginningrnof his career, “I had to be aware . . .rnwho had me under surveillance, who wasrnreporting on me. . . . I had to considerrnvery carefully whom I could talk tornfrankly, and who was best avoided.” Notrnsurprisingly, alienation under the communistrnsystem was far deeper and morernwidespread than in Western societies. Arnwoman in the novel “abhorred the sortrnof life in which people were made to actrnlike strangers; in which fear and denunciationrnruled, people shunned eachrnother, were frightened to talk to eachrnother, exchange letters, confide in eachrnother; in which people could be accusedrnof having uttered some heretical thoughtrnyears before; in which people were requiredrnto speak a strange official jargonrnthat almost preyented communication.”rnIn these circumstances, persona! tics assumedrnexaggerated importance even asrnthey became a source of great stress. Sexrnbecame an inexpensive and widely availablernmeans of escape.rnKlima is wise enough to know thatrnwhile the communist system greatly increasedrnhuman misery and degradation,rnhappiness and personal fulfillment remainrndifficult and elusive goals no matterrnwhat type of political system one livesrnunder. Thus in his historical readingsrnthe judge comes to the realization thatrn”beneath the veil of time-honored justice,rnthe mask of redemptive faith andrnthe smile of holy compassion, was hiddenrnthe face of the self-same beast. . . .rnAgain and again, it demanded its rationrnof blood. . . . Always with the same con-rnNOVEMBER 1993/35rnrnrn