12
Sep08

Kundera’s ‘The Hitchhiking Game’

Posted by: damong

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Kundera’s ‘The Hitchhiking Game’

By Damon Griffin

Most people know of the book, or at least the film, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which is Czech author Milan Kundera’s best known work in the western world. This was indeed the first book of his I read, and with great enthusiasm. But this summer I read several more of his writings, which included a short story called ‘The Hitchhiking Game.’ It is this story that I want to focus on for the remainder of this post. Because if you don’t have time to read a novel, or just don’t want to, you can at least read ‘The Hitchhiking Game,’ and your’ exposure to Kundera will be sufficient.

The story was originally written in the late 60′s, during a time of immense political turmoil and artistic hope in Czechoslovakia. The ‘Prague Spring’ had been crushed by Russian forces in 1967, but there was still much revolutionary artistic activity happening in literature. I mention this only to point out that ‘The Hitchhiking Game’ was essentially a part of a long rebellion at the time, even though nowadays, it does not read that way. It is just a very weird, clever (maybe too clever) love story to us now. A boy and his girlfriend (referred to throughout as only ‘the boy’ and ‘the girl’) stop for gas during a drive on their vacation; while waiting, the girl goes for a walk down the road and a few minutes later is picked up by her boyfriend; they proceed to play an inside-joke type of game, in which they do not know each other, and the girl is a submissive plaything and the boy is a tough misogynist; the game starts out as mere pretend, but gradually turns genuinely hostile. Yet in a sense, there are several rebellions in this story; the two lovers are rebelling against social norms by the very nature of their game, rebelling against each other by seeing how one-dimensional, shallow and eventually violent they can act towards one another. So in a sense the story is a series of rebellions, though also a character study in the truest sense of the word; the intensely detached tone and constant shift-of focus between the two characters somehow elicits the reader’s sympathy for them.

The story can be found in the collection Laughable Loves, alongside a few other memorable Kundera stories.

Posted in: Read, Listen, Watch

1 Comments

  1. G. Karen Merguerian, October 21, 2008:

    I also read this years ago, after reading and really liking “Unbearable Lightness.” I think at the time I was in a pretty entrenched feminist phase, and one of the themes of “Unbearable” which was interesting to me was the notion of embracing and accepting infidelity. (In fact, when the husband gives up infidelity and moves to the idyllic countryside with his wife, they come to a dead end.) So I felt shocked and betrayed when I read “Hitchhiker” because the couple manage to betray one another with one another, and their infidelity isn’t about exploring the possibilities of love, it’s about using sexuality to exploit. I’ve heard that some readers feel the ending is redemptive, but I couldn’t believe the couple would ever be able to trust one other again.

    I’ve never read any more Kundera since then, I figured his message was too dark for me! But maybe it’s one of those stories that you see differently when you read it at different times of your life. Maybe I should re-read it and give it another chance!

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