Recently on NRO, I reviewed Roger Scruton’s new novel, Notes from Underground, which I described as a “polemical” novel whose harsh descriptions of life behind the Iron Curtain had an “authentic ring.” Scruton replied to me, writing: “I think you were wrong about the novel, since you thought it was a polemic and not about character and situation. I am forwarding something that has just come to me from a Czech [émigré] via a friend in Prague. It says more clearly than I can what I was trying to do.”
The Czech reader wrote this note to Scruton:
It should be a compulsory reading for young people not only in the Czech Republic but in the whole world. . . . It is the story of my life and my family. When we lived there, the reason for arrest was not an underground action, but simply that you had aligned with the West. As my father was a member of the British army during the World War II, he was arrested for trumped-up charges . . . Like Jan’s mother [a character in the novel], I ended up in prison, probably just for the fact that I was the daughter of a big criminal, and because I attended English Grammar School before it was abolished and was a member of the Girl Scouts before they, too, were forbidden. . . .
I feel intimately close to all the places and churches Scruton mentioned, even if he claims to take topographical liberties. I love Prague and all the churches even though I was brought up as a Protestant. Whenever I found churches open, I walked in and admired the atmosphere and remembered all the nuns that I spent time with in prison, plucking feathers. . . .
I can understand small jabs about America and American way of life. However, when I entered the United States, it was the first time I felt free and not afraid of coming events. Unfortunately something is happening here today even though we have constitutionally established “free speech.” The official press and most television stations use established language, and if you express opposing views, you are not imprisoned (so far), but you can lose your job and be generally ostracized. . . .
My life has taught me to be always matter of fact. However that does not mean that I am not able to enjoy philosophical thoughts that flow through the whole book. I wish I were able to use the rich English language that is prevalent in the book. So I am only able to admire this book with the simple words. And I do it sincerely.