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Notes from Underground
Cover of Notes from Underground
Notes from Underground
Borrow Borrow

Set in the twilight years of the Czechoslovak communist regime, recalled from the suburbs of Washington, this novel describes a doomed love affair between two young people trapped by the system. Roger Scruton evokes a world in which every word and gesture bears a double meaning, as people seek to find truth amid the lies and love in the midst of betrayal. The novel tells the story of Jan Reichl, condemned to a menial life by his father's alleged crime, and of Betka, the girl who offers him education, opportunity and love, but who mysteriously refuses to commit herself.

Through his encounter with the underground culture Jan comes to understand that truth will always elude those who pursue it, and will come only when they least expect it. Hope comes to him from Father Pavel, a priest in the underground church, who opens a door into the faith that has inspired and guided him. Jan is deeply moved by Father Pavel's vision, but distrusts it too. He attends the underground seminars, where the dissidents gather in defiance of the system; but here too distrust prevails. All roads that seem to promise freedom lead to dead ends. But what of Betka: is she the door that opens out of the underground or the door that finally shuts him in? As the story moves to its tragic conclusion the communist system enters its death throes. Jan enjoys freedom at last, only to understand that he has lost the love that would have made freedom meaningful.

Set in the twilight years of the Czechoslovak communist regime, recalled from the suburbs of Washington, this novel describes a doomed love affair between two young people trapped by the system. Roger Scruton evokes a world in which every word and gesture bears a double meaning, as people seek to find truth amid the lies and love in the midst of betrayal. The novel tells the story of Jan Reichl, condemned to a menial life by his father's alleged crime, and of Betka, the girl who offers him education, opportunity and love, but who mysteriously refuses to commit herself.

Through his encounter with the underground culture Jan comes to understand that truth will always elude those who pursue it, and will come only when they least expect it. Hope comes to him from Father Pavel, a priest in the underground church, who opens a door into the faith that has inspired and guided him. Jan is deeply moved by Father Pavel's vision, but distrusts it too. He attends the underground seminars, where the dissidents gather in defiance of the system; but here too distrust prevails. All roads that seem to promise freedom lead to dead ends. But what of Betka: is she the door that opens out of the underground or the door that finally shuts him in? As the story moves to its tragic conclusion the communist system enters its death throes. Jan enjoys freedom at last, only to understand that he has lost the love that would have made freedom meaningful.

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About the Author-
  • Roger Scruton is a freelance writer and philosopher, who rescued himself from the academy twenty years ago. He currently lives in rural Wiltshire, England. He has held posts in the American Enterprise Institute, and in the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He is married with two children. He is the author of 40 books, including five works of fiction, and composed two operas. He is widely known on both sides of the Atlantic as a public intellectual with a broadly conservative vision.

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 13, 2014
    Philosopher and activist in Eastern Europe Scruton (The Meaning of Conservatism) weaves references to literature, the subway, and dissident movements into both his title and this bittersweet tale, set in Prague during the twilight of Communist Czechoslovakia. Jan Reichl is a young man living on the fringes of society whose mother has just been arrested for underground publishing. What she conceals from the police is that her son is also “Comrade Underground,” author of Rumors, a collection of his impressions of the lives of fellow passengers on the Metro. It is this book that leads to his romance with Alžbeta Palková, or “Betka,” as she is known. Betka introduces Jan to an alternative Prague, where ideas are freely discussed behind closed doors. Decades later, Jan reflects from suburban Washington, D.C., on his brief romance with Betka and the tumultuous times that they lived through. A familiarity with Czech culture and history will enhance the reader’s experience, but Scruton’s prose will satisfy anyone with an interest in this place and period.

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Roger Scruton
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